He's Not An Aberration
Why many charedim do not davven for soldiers
Whenever I report the seemingly preposterous statements or actions of a charedi rabbinic figure, my opponents have to make a decision. Do they defend the statement/ actions? Do they claim that I have misinterpreted them? Or do they say that the rabbi is an aberration and not at all representative of others in the charedi community?
In the previous post, I shared a video of Rav Bunim Schreiber declaring that charedim do not have any reason to feel connected or grateful to soldiers. I noted that he certainly isn’t representative of all charedim, but he is nevertheless representative of a significant number. My opponents couldn’t find a way to defend his position or deny that he took it, so they resorted to saying that he is an utter aberration, not representative of anyone, and everyone in the charedi world would be disgusted by his words.
Now, let me first point out that aside from Rav Schreiber holding an important position in charedi society, the reaction to his words in the charedi world was hardly universal condemnation. When I published books presenting the approach of various Rishonim and Acharonim to Torah/science topics, there were endless denunciations from Gedolim in the charedi press. When Rav Dovid Leibel said that it’s legitimate for a person to work for a living and to send his children to a school that provides a basic secular education, HaPeles compared him to Lavan, and Yated printed a two-page article of detailed condemnation. But with Rav Schreiber, he merely had to claim that his words were “taken out of context.” There was no public condemnation in the Yated or any charedi publication.
And how many major Litvishe charedi rabbinic figures have publicly stated that one should be grateful to soldiers and davven for them? There are definitely those who believe in it, but it’s far from everyone - in fact, here in Israel, it’s very few. (Interestingly, it seems that just ten years ago, the mainstream Litvish charedi world was comfortable declaring that they were davenning for soldiers, but now they are not.) They take pains to write letters denouncing charedim who try to help the IDF, but not to write letters urging people to davven for the IDF.
Last night we hosted friends for dinner and the wife shared a story. Earlier this past week, a charedi woman came to her door, collecting money for her daughter who was getting married the next day. Our friend was happy to give, and asked the woman if the kallah can davven under the chuppa for her son-in-law, who is fighting in Gaza. The woman didn’t want to do so.
First she claimed that it’s not important to davven specifically for soldiers because all Klal Yisrael is in difficulty. Then she said that she couldn’t because she didn’t have a piece of paper to write down his name. Our friend said, not to worry, she can give her a piece of paper. The woman was very reluctant. Only when our friend made it clear that her donation was contingent on the kallah davvening for her son-in-law did the woman agree.
Does anyone seriously think that I just so happened to hear about the only other person in Israel who, like R. Schreiber, does not want to davven for soldiers?! There are tens if not hundreds of thousands of people like that. And here’s another anecdote. A friend of mine, who lives in a very yeshivishe community in the US, told me that his daughter made an art projet for school, with toy soldiers bearing the names of specific IDF soldiers to davven for. The school refused to let her present it.
My home town of Beit Shemesh is full of shuls that will not davven for soldiers, and the same is true of Bnei Brak, Kiryat Sefer, Beitar, and many other towns with charedi populations. Most of them will say Tehillim for the situation in general - after all, there is a small risk of rockets for everyone, and there are hostages who are not soldiers - but they will not ever specify davening for soldiers.
Note that the reason given by R. Schreiber, however, is not everyone’s reason. In fact, I think that for most people who won’t davven specifically for soldiers, there is a different reason, which R. Schreiber did not mention but which undoubtedly also motivates him.
Some claim that the reason is that “one cannot make up a new tefillah,” but this is not the reason. Charedim are perfectly happy to make up a new tefillah when it suits their purposes, such as the tefillah composed by Rav Mordechai Gross of Bnei Brak for reciting after saying Perek Shirah, or the tefillah composed by Rav Chaim Kanievsky to be recited before voting for UTJ. And they don’t even need to make up a new tefillah - they could just announce that they are reciting Tehillim for soldiers. But they don’t want to do so. And, as seen in the story with the woman collecting, they don’t even want to add names of soldiers for Tehillim. Rather, it’s something else.
Rav Aharon Feldman spelled out the problem with davening for soldiers. There is a recent audio recording in which he claims that not only there is no benefit in children writing letters to soldiers (which is false - it improves their morale tremendously), it is “not chinnuch” and there is the problem that it risks “glorifying” the soldiers. He says that what the children need to be taught is that it is their Torah which wins the war. And they should be taught that their Torah is bullets attacking Arabs (rather than that their Torah is to protect and help soldiers). While one can davven for soldiers, he says, there is a risk that soldiers will thereby be glorified, and it runs the risk that children might actually want to become soldiers rather than stay in yeshivah.
Rav Feldman himself allows for one to nevertheless davven for soldiers, as long as one equally davvens for yeshiva students (though personally I was not aware that yeshiva students are actually in danger as soldiers are). But it’s clear that his reasoning is why so many charedim will only davven for “the matzav” and will refuse to specify soldiers. To specify davening for soldiers is to risk “glorifying” the idea that being a soldier, risking your life to fight for the Jewish People, is actually something valuable for a religious Jew to do, and/or risks legitimizing Zionism. Better not to davven specifically for them, even though specifying the people for whom you are davenning is, from a charedi perspective, something that is normally done in order to make the tefillah more potent.
It’s not the same as R. Schreiber’s explanation. But it’s equally disgraceful. And it represents a large sector of the charedi community.
Rationalist Judaism is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.