The Drowning Man
A parable about the charedi belief that their Torah protects us
Things got pretty heated after my post Guns, Terrorism and Torah. I pointed out that Charedim only profess to believe that their Torah learning offers significant supernatural protection to themselves and others. In practice, like everyone else, they don’t take the Aggadic statements about Torah protecting to have any real-life application that would lessen a need for physical protection. That’s why the charedi yeshivos fled the South during the Gaza operations instead of remaining to offer protection, that’s why the charedi settlement of Kiryat Sefer has armed guards, and that’s why some charedim very sensibly believe that each synagogue should have someone with a gun (and if only all charedim had taken that approach, some tragedies could have been avoided).
This did not go down well with my ideological opponents, who keep the comments section lively and have even started an entire blog dedicated to rebutting this one (the third such anti-Slifkin blog to have been created!). They insisted that charedim benefit themselves and others with the special supernatural protection of Torah, and that they really believe it. But, they said, while this special protection is supernatural in origin, it’s not supernatural in the way it is implemented. They added that it’s a mistake to believe otherwise, and cited the famous parable of the foolish drowning man who turns down the rescue boat and helicopter because he says that God will save him. In this vein, they explained that God provides His special help via naturalistic means.
And what are these naturalistic means? Well, according to my opponents, the special power of Charedi Torah is that not only does it protect the entire country, such as by helping Iron Dome work properly, it particularly helps the Charedim. And it does so in that it is the supernatural cause of their having disproportionate political power (which is not, as you might think, to do with their being a voting bloc that agrees to anything for money). And this in turn enables them to spend their lives in yeshiva or working without having to go the army, while the Zionists do all the hard and dangerous work of being soldiers.
I’m not kidding. This is literally what they argued.
And so I came up with a better parable than the drowning man. It goes as follows:
A group of people were stranded during a rising flood. They were all trying to figure out how to survive. But one man said, "God will save us!" And he sat down to pray.
The others said, "Look, God has already given us the means to be rescued! There's all kinds of materials lying around, there's even a partially-working power saw, we could build a boat!"
But the praying man refused to help. He said, "No, I am only relying on God! He will help us, in the merit of my prayers!"
The others also prayed, but after their prayers, they worked on building a boat. It was hard work. But the praying man refused to help. He said, "No, it’s more important for me to spend all my time praying, so that God will help us!"
Building a boat with the partially-working power saw was a little dangerous, and nobody was thrilled about using it. They agreed to take turns doing it. But the praying man refused to take a turn. He said, "No, I don’t want to do anything dangerous! I am only relying on God! He will help us!"
Finally, as the flood waters rose ever higher, the boat was ready. The others got into it. And the praying man said, "Hold on, I'm coming with you!"
The others said, "But didn't you say that you were relying on God to save you?"
The praying man replied, "I sure did! And He did save me! He sent me you people to build a boat!"
The others had some harsh things to say, but the praying man rebuked them harshly for disrespecting the special power of his prayers.
The real reason why charedim don’t want to serve in the army is that it is particularly threatening to their way of life (which is true). But it wouldn’t look good for them to admit that they therefore just want everyone else to shoulder the difficult and dangerous burden of IDF service. And so they come up with an explanation of how the Torah study of the charedi community provides essential security benefits.
But if Torah provides protection, why did the charedi yeshivos flee the South? My opponents were not quite sure, and admitted that it might have been a mistake, but they suggested that if the yeshivos felt afraid, then that legitimized them leaving. Needless to say, that argument is ludicrous. If they truly believe that their Torah offers protection, then it is their duty to stay and provide it for the tens of thousands of people that were living in the South and who did not want to leave or who were unable to do so. And this in fact is what charedim in the entire country should be doing - putting their yeshivos in places that most need protection. Not doing that either means that you don’t believe that Torah protects, or that you don’t care to put yourself out to help others who need help.)
(Note that this is what Religious Zionists actually do. They put yeshivot in towns around the periphery and in less secure areas, such as Kiryat Shemona and Sderot - not necessarily in order to provide supernatural protection, but to provide spiritual and moral support to people in those areas, alongside the military protection that religious Zionist soldiers provide.)
But even if charedim are not providing those in need with the concentrated local protection which they claim to believe their Torah provides, isn’t their Torah nevertheless providing a certain degree of protection for the entire country? Doesn’t that justify them avoiding sharing the burden of army service?
The answer is no. The actual sources in Chazal about Torah protecting are not about it having some innate supernatural power. Rather, as I discuss in my book Rationalism vs. Mysticism, they are about virtuous people earning the merit of special protection (which can be explained both according to the mystical and the rationalist approach, as I shall discuss in future posts). Torah which is studied selflessly, as part of creating a virtuous nation - such as the Torah learned in regular schools, in hesder yeshivos, and by people who are building up society - earns that protection. Torah learned without such virtuousness does not. And there’s nothing virtuous about demanding that the difficulties and danger of army service have to be shouldered by everyone else and not by your community (and not even showing appreciation for it).
Meanwhile, I’m very excited about a series of posts that I am preparing, about the many benefits of Judaism from a rationalist perspective - including military protection as well as numerous other things. Stay tuned!
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I don’t have a blog of my own, but the kind of readers here are most likely the ones that would be interested if I had one. Thus this post will be a little long.
I like to think of myself as a Rational Jew, like Noson. I have carefully learned Moreh Nevuchim and I must thank Noson for opening my eyes on numerous issues of Jewish Thought. I have been close with Rav Aharon Feldman since 1969. I highly respected the fact that he, at one time, tried to plead in Noson’s defense. But I was taken aback when he jumped ship and wrote his ill-founded response in the summer of 2005. He showed me the first draft and I wrote a critique of it. He responded to my critique, seemingly to agree with many of my points and disagree with some. I responded to his response and sent it to him. He then went ahead and published his original article without modifying it by addressing my cogent arguments. I then shared my critique with Noson who published it. After that Rav Feldman broke ties with me for a few years. We have since then sort of reunited.
I have published four Historical/Hashkafa/Halacha novels and one sefer on Torah subjects (in Hebrew). In the past two years I was encouraged to translate a long piece I wrote on Hashgocha from a rational perspective. I added to it three other pieces from my sefer that I translated and rewrote in English and put them together in a 60 page book, Creation and Divine Providence.
When you feel you have come to an understanding of something, often that becomes a springboard for another thought, and that one for another, etc. My thoughts on how Divine Providence works from a rational perspective gave me an insight into a new (for me) conclusion.
We all have heard that Ben Gurion predicted in 1948 that within a few generations there wouldn’t be any Torah Jews left. Hah! Seemingly, there is more Torah being learned today by more Jews than ever before in history.
I asked a question: What is the one most significant factor that has generated the plethora of Torah study, Yeshivos, and Kollelim in Eretz Yisroel as of today?
My answer: The Israel Army Draft! I’m not comparing the phenomena to the upsurge of Yeshivas in America to evade the idiotic Viet Nam war draft. In E”Y, the Gedolim (from Agudah and on right) insisted on exemption from the draft for full time torah learners to create (concomitant with the Zionist state) a “culture” of Torah learning. It was “Zeh L’umat Zeh.” The Zionists morphed the Army Draft into a “national culture,” that has become the “holy grail” of Zionism. Torah learning has always been recognized by the elite stratified class of Torah Sages in past generations as the focal point of Judaism, but now that the Zionist wanted to change that to “Nationalism” it had to be countered in the most effective and extreme manner to prevent Zionism from making Ben Gurion’s erstwhile prediction a reality.
Thus I am contending that it is two way street (in a sense). The ardent Draft as a Zionist cultural artifact, has strengthened the resolve of the Torah world to save, preserve and grow its culture of Limud HaTorah.
On the other hand, the potent opposition to the army draft by the “Torah World” has worked to harden the resolve of the Army culture. That means, the Army must be the most moral army in the world (which I think it is), it must be the most potent Army in the world (for its size) and in successful defense of its people, which I think it has proven to be. Thus, the Torah world in its opposition to the draft has been a major factor, by its cultural war in making the Israeli army so formidable. In that case, it is indeed very true that sincere Torah learning acts to protect Klal Yisroel by its indirect impetus making the IDF the best it can be. Kinas Sofrim Tarbeh Chochmah. The Kulturkampf between Torah and the Draft, has strengthened both.
At this point in history, I think both are highly sophisticated as institutions and have momentum and motivation to continue without the animus of all-out Kulturkampf. That means each should respect the other, and allow this successful formula remain in place as it is.
No, you got the parable wrong. Here it is:
Once upon a time, in a high-security prison filled with the most hardened of criminals, a group of convicts hatched a plan to escape. They started collecting the wrappers from their prison meals, as one does when they're preparing to break out of jail. After much brainstorming, they decided to use the wrappers to pick the lock of their cell door. It was a brilliant plan, or so they thought.
But there was one prisoner who instead spent his days on the phone, speaking with his mysterious friend named "DA". While the others were busy planning their escape, he was busy schmoozing with this guy. When the big day finally arrived, the other inmates were ready. They had managed to mold the wrappers into a giant key that they hoped would unlock their freedom.
As they inserted their makeshift key into the lock, the door suddenly swung open. The prison warden stood before them and announced that all charges had been dropped, thanks to the DA's intervention. The DA's friend was thrilled, but his fellow inmates were less than pleased.
"Chutzpa!" they cried. "You freeloading ingrate! We worked tirelessly to plan this escape and you just sat there on the phone all day. You should have helped us, instead of just mooching off our hard work."
Natan, it's amazing how much you're lacking in self-awareness not to realize how big a theological fraud you are. You've spent the last 10 years DENYING THAT THE TORAH OFFERS ANY PROTECTION. AT ALL. I can show many posts where you've written that very clearly. Just over a week ago, you were ridiculing R. Zilberstein for telling someone that the Torah protects and he does not need to buy a gun. But now you're saying that the Chareidim don't believe that the Torah protects or else they would not have fled the south. So then why did R. Zilberstein tell the fellow not to buy a gun??
After we showed you the overwhelming evidence from the contrary, you've completely changed your tone. The parable that you wrote above is from a secularist standpoint which denies the essence of Torah and Mitzvos at all. As my friend HGL wrote, you could have replaced "sat down to pray" to "played with toys".
At least you're starting to show your true colors and don't claim to be representing "classic Judaism" anymore. I'm glad we're making progress.