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"Rabbis Do Not Need Protection"
The latest round in the debate about charedim and army has taken a fascinating twist.
In Rabbi Hoffman's original article arguing that yeshivah students should not serve in the army, he only referenced Gemaras that condemned the drafting of Torah scholars. Note that these Gemaras did not specify the reason why it is wrong to draft Torah scholars. Indeed, there are a number of possibilities.
When, however, it was pointed out that these Gemaras speak of talmidei chachamim, and thus presumably refer to talmidei chachamim, Rabbi Hoffman switched to a different Gemara, which was eagerly taken up by Rabbi Menken. The Gemara that they switched to was one stating that "The rabbis do not need protection" (and they argue that Rav Moshe Feinstein used this to demonstrate that yeshivah students should categorically not go to the army - later we shall see that this is far from clear).
At first, I didn't realize that there had been a switch. But as soon as I realized, I submitted the following comment to Cross-Currents:
It is surely obvious that the Gemara does not mean that yeshivah students or even rabbis are immune from harm against the Arab threat. (I hope that pointing out this obvious fact will not mean that you will accuse me of saying that Torah=chess.) Do I need to remind you of the massacres at Chevron and at Mercaz HaRav? How about the fact that Beitar and Kiryat Sefer, towns that are full of Bnei Torah, need and request army protection? Obviously, then, in the face of the Arab threat, the yeshivah students and rabbis DO need protection. In which case, we are back to the issue of why it is fair for them to demand that only other people provide it.
Rabbi Menken, however, refused to post the comment, as he told me in an e-mail. His reason was extraordinary - he claimed that it was "not sufficiently germane" to the discussion!
I wrote back to him expressing my astonishment that he described this comment as "not germane." Rabbi Hoffman and Rabbi Menken cited this Gemara in support of the claim that yeshivah students should not be enlisted, because they "don't need protection." Yet the obvious reality, accepted by Charedim, is that yeshivah students and rabbis do need protection. There could hardly be a more germane comment than this!
Rabbi Menken responded that I "do not understand the Gemara." To this I responded:
Oh, for Heaven's sake. You yourself obviously do not believe that rabbis do not need protection from Arabs. So you have no idea why this Gemara would prove that yeshivah students should not serve in the army. You're just trying to hide behind Rav Moshe Feinstein.
Rabbi Menken responded by explaining the Gemara's statement that "the rabbis do not need protection" to mean that "that the rabbis offer protection from Arabs, they don't merely need it" (emphasis his). I fail to understand how inserting the word "merely" in the Gemara, and thereby totally inverting its meaning, is a valid approach to learning Gemara. I also fail to understand how explaining the Gemara to mean that "rabbis don't merely need protection" satisfactorily explains why they should not be drafted.
Still, Rabbi Menken steadfastly refused to print my comment. This makes a mockery of the claim that Cross-Currents makes about its comments policy:
The moderation of comments is not intended to stifle debate, but to keep it constructive. Comments entirely critical of positions taken by our contributors and of the Orthodox center to right-of-center ideologies we represent will be published. We believe in a way of life that can survive scrutiny and critique. It will be our job to respond.
It's a pity that, unlike other writers at Cross-Currents, Rabbi Menken does not live up to its stated approach. But meanwhile, what of the Gemara's claim that "Rabbis do not need protection," and what of Rav Moshe Feinstein? Even if Rabbi Menken is not going to reconcile this with reality, the rest of us would like to!
Regarding the Gemara, as I have noted in the past, Radvaz 2:752 greatly restricts the extent of the Gemara's ruling. This includes stating that it does not apply in cases where the rabbis consider themselves in need of protection. Chasam Sofer says that it only refers to exemptions from city taxes that are placed upon Jews in exile, not for defense against genuine military threats. Radvaz and Chasam Sofer thus accept the obvious truth that in the threat posed to Israel by its Arab neighbors, rabbis do very much need protection.
What, then, are we to make of the ruling of Rav Moshe Feinstein? First of all, it should be noted that Rav Moshe is arguing with the Rama (YD 243:2). Rav Moshe expands the Gemara to refer to yeshivah students. Rama says that it refers only to those who are fluent in most of the Talmud, commentaries and rulings of the Geonim.
Furthermore, David Ohsie pointed out that the responsum does not at all seem to mean what Rabbis Hoffman and Menken are taking it to mean:
The Teshuvah seems to be addressed to someone who was questioning the propriety of taking advantage of the draft exemption for those that learn in a Yeshiva instead of serving in the IDF. Rav Moshe appears to allow this exemption for two reasons:
A) We see from the Gemara in בבא בתרא that learning can take precedence over protecting the city.
B) Israel has recognized the importance of learning Torah, and thus exempted those that learn in a Yeshiva.
The Teshuvah does not address the following issues:
1) The Teshuvah does not imply that the learning provides protection for others. Nor does it claim that learning in a Yeshiva is enough to protect oneself from the threats facing Israel at any given time. It merely asserts that while protecting the country is a very important matter, learning Torah is even more important, so that taking advantage of a draft exemption is a moral choice. The evidence is that one may exempt oneself from sharing in payment for the protection of the city. Presumably, this would not be a valid choice for someone who merely had enough money to pay for private protection. He mentions at the end of the Teshuvah his desire that the action should be a Berachah and Haganah for Israel, but this is not the basis for the p'sak.
The Teshuvah doesn't even imply that those learning in a Yeshiva are providing protection for themselves; it is hard to imagine the country being threatened militarily or with terrorism and those who learn being automatically protected, as could be the case with burglars in a city. As has been pointed out by others, even those who learn, rationally vacate vulnerable areas when they are under active attack, and so admit that this protection does not apply even to themselves in this instance.
2) The Teshuvah does not address itself to the question of what level of exemption should be provided by the country. It is addressed to the morality of even accepting an exemption given that the country permits it. It makes no claim that the existing level of exemption must remain static forever. It also does not address evasion of the draft in opposition to the laws of the country.
3) The Teshuvah is not completely silent on the level of dedication or achievement needed to justify an exemption. It actually mentions that one can accept an exemption to become גדול בתורה ובהוראה וביראת שמים. Note the reference to becoming a Posek, not merely someone that learns. Presumably, not everyone who learns in a Yeshiva is material for becoming a Posek.
Thus, not only is the Gemara not saying that yeshivah students should automatically be exempt from the draft, and not only does Rama make it clear that there is no reference here to yeshivah students - even Rav Moshe Feinstein is not necessarily saying that yeshivah students should automatically be exempt from the draft.
Rabbis do need protection from the Arab threat. (Similar to how Rabbi Menken needs protection from comments that undermine his argument.) It is unfair (as well as lacking any clear source in Chazal or the Rishonim) to demand that this protection be provided solely from people outside the charedi community. Indeed, this point is made explicitly in an early responsum from an early Rav Moshe: "Shall your brothers go to war, while you remain here?"