The Israeli Army: A New Halachic Paradigm

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idfby Aron White

1. Introduction

Much has been written within the National Religious and Modern Orthodox communities about whether there is a halachic obligation to serve in the Israeli army. I wish to present a new halachic basis for serving in the Israeli army based on the Talmud’s rules of citizenship. There are two conclusions from my analysis of the sugya:

  1. There is a halachic obligation on all people living in Israel to serve in the Israeli army.
  2. The service for all people should be of equal length.

I am not a halachic authority, but I believe the arguments I will make are unambiguous and my conclusions are correct. Nevertheless, I feel responsible to profess my lack of credentials in the field of halachic rulings.

2. Halachic Arguments to Date

There have been two central halachic arguments advanced as a basis for the obligation to serve in the Israeli Army. The first and most obvious argument is that the current situation in Israel constitutes a Milchemes Mitzva, an obligatory war in which everybody is required to fight. For example, this argument can be found in Melumdei Milchama (page 3) by Rav Nachum Rabinowitz as well as in Rav Zevin’s letter condemning yeshivos who told their students not to serve in the army.

A second argument is advanced by Rav Hershel Schachter.1 Based on Sanhedrin (20b), he says that a government has the right to draft soldiers to its army, and thus one is obligated to listen to a government order to serve in the army.

Naturally, there are also numerous hashkafic and philosophical considerations that come into play. A desire to impact upon and integrate within broader Israeli society, the ability to influence the religious nature of Israeli culture, and the Derech Eretz and Kiddush Hashem concerns of refraining from servicee are all hashkafic motivations to serve in the army. However, this essay will focus primarily on a halachic argument that I believe has not merited due attention.

3. The Rules of Bnei Ha’Ir

The Mishna states :“Members of a city can force each other to build a wall, gate and a lock for the city” (Bava Basra 1:5).  This Mishna teaches that members of a city are obligated to contribute monetarily towards the security needs of the city.

The main area of discussion in the Gemara and later Rishonim is how to divide the costs of the security. For example, do the wealthy have to pay more than the poor?

Can we find certain sectors of society who are at greater risk, and does that impact upon the amount they must contribute? What becomes clear, both from the Gemara, and later sources, is that the basis for the amount one must contribute corresponds to the benefit one obtains from that service, as I will now show from a number of examples.

  1. The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 163:3), based on Bava Basra 7b, says that in a city at peace, those living closest to the city’s border must contribute more to the cost of building the city’s wall than those living in the centre of the city. Rashi (B.B. ad loc. sv. kiruv batim) and the Sma (S.A. ad loc. sv. kol hasamuch) explain that this is because they have a greater need for the wall. In a time of peace, they need a wall because of sporadic robbery by intruders. In such a case, those closest to the wall are most vulnerable.
     
  2. Tosfos (B.B. ad loc. sv. lefi kiruv), as well as many other Rishonim quoted in the Shulchan Aruch, take this idea of need-based payment a step further. They say that considering proximity in determining the required contributions, we also need to factor in the relative wealth of the different people. A wealthy person has more to lose to an intruder than a poor person. In fact, a really poor person, even living next to the edge of the city, has nothing to lose at all, so should not really have to pay anything. Tosfos say that we must assess the amount that one needs to contribute based on both the risk of theft due to proximity and the amount that the person has to lose.
     
  3. The Shulchan Aruch (ad loc.) goes on to discuss a case where there is a threat of invasion. In many cases, an invading king will only be interested in taking all the property of a town and gaining more subjects, not killing residents. In such a case people must contribute to the security needs based solely on wealth. In the scenario of an invasion, there is no difference between those who are near or far from the city edge, as the whole city is taken over. However, the rich people have more to lose, so they must contribute more to the security needs.
     
  4. In a case where there is a chance the invading king will also kill residents, there is a double threat. There is the threat that the king will take away property, and there is also the threat that he will kill people. Concerning the first threat, the rich stand to lose more than the poor. However, with regards to the second threat, everyone requires protection of their life equally. Thus we split the tax burden based on both wealth and the number of people in the household. The threat to wealth requires a wealth based split. The threat to life requires that every person contributes an equal amount.(Shulchan Aruch 163:3 s.v. aval bizman).
     
  5. The Gemara (Bava Basra 7b) states that a Talmid Chacham is exempt from paying for the walls of a city because he does not require protection. However, he does need to contribute to the upkeep of the city’s roads and streets (Bava Basra 8a; S.A. Choshen Mishpat 163:4). His contribution is based on need – he does not need protection but requires roads and streets, so he must contribute to the latter and not the former.

Thus it is clear that one’s obligation to contribute to the security needs of a city is based on how much one needs that service. When there is fear of property damage, then proximity and wealth define one’s obligation. When there is risk to life from an invading army, everyone is at equal risk, so all must contribute equally.

4. Extending the Obligation of Bnei Ha’Ir from Monetary to Service Obligations

One can adduce from the Gemara that the obligation to contribute to the needs of the city goes beyond monetary obligation, that one is obligated to provide physical service as well, if that is necessary. The Gemara states that a Talmid Chacham must contribute funds to build and maintain the roads, but he does not need to personally labour on the roads, as it is derogatory to him. However, it is clear that those who are not Talmidei Chachamim may be forced to provide physical service to build the roads.

Furthermore, the Rashba (Tshuvos HaRashba 3:382) was asked about how to divide guard duty in a city. In his responsum, he says that it should be split up based on needs, utilising the same principles as we mentioned above about monetary payments.

5. Implication for the Israeli Army

In Israel we face a situation in which there is a threat not only to property, but primarily to human life. This threat is equal – acts of terror have been committed all over the country, against all sectors of the population. In a situation where there is an equal threat to life, there is a halachic obligation for everyone to contribute service equally to defend against that threat. In fact, our situation very closely resembles the Rashba’s case of guard duty; we need to do guard duty to protect from a threat against life, and therefore everyone needs to contribute equally.

6. The Torah Scholar Exemption

I mentioned earlier the exemption of a Talmid Chacham based on the fact he has no security needs. This could potentially be a basis for saying that yeshiva students are not obligated to contribute to the security needs of their place. The important distinction that must be made is the difference between a Talmid Chacham and one who is studying Torah. The Gemara does not say that one can fulfil his security obligation by learning Torah. Rather, a Talmid Chacham has no security needs, and has no security obligation to fulfil. However, Talmud Torah is not a way of fulfilling one’s security obligation. Thus the issue is not whether a person is “in learning” or not, but whether he is a Talmid Chacham or not. Here is how the Rema defines who is a Talmid Chacham who has no security needs –

….[He] is known in his generation as a Talmid Chacham, who knows to discuss and understand (topics from) most places in Shas, its commentaries and the commentaries of the Geonim, and Torah is his permanent occupation. (Yoreh Deah 243:2)

There is almost no-one who qualifies for this bracket at age 18, or even 25. How many people are “known in their generation” asTalmidei Chachamim at that age? How many people can discuss sugyos in most places in Shas, and be “holding” in Rashi, Tosfos and major Rishonim in their twenties (and frankly, at any age)? Thus, most Yeshiva students do not qualify as a Talmid Chacham, and thus require protection. One who is not a Talmid Chacham has an equal security need as everyone else, and must serve the same amount as everyone else.

Some claim that even though many Yeshiva students are not Talmidei Chachamim, and therefore must contribute to the security needs, they are fulfilling this requirement by studying Torah; the merit of their study protects the Jewish people (see for example, Makkos 10b). There are two responses to this argument. First, let us analyse the case of a Talmid Chacham. The Gemara states he is exempt from providing security because he does not need protection. However, he must physically contribute towards the building of roads. By the logic of the challenge presented above, surely the learning of the Talmid Chacham should be his communal contribution to the success of the community’s efforts? There is nowhere a statement that the learning of Torah fulfils his obligations to the community. A Talmid Chacham does not need to contribute to security. However, when he needs to contribute, such as in the case of building roads, he must contribute physically. The same is true of someone who is not a Talmid Chacham – the obligations he has to the community, including security obligations, must be fulfilled physically.

Additionally, the claim seems to blur the lines between Halacha and Hashkafa. Does one fulfil the mitzva of Hachnasas Orchim, hosting guests, by learning in the merit that homeless people should find a place to eat? Does one fulfil the mitzva of Simchas Chassan VeKalla, making a bride and groom happy on their wedding day, by learning in the merit they should have a wonderful day? Does one fulfil his obligation to marry off his children by learning in their merit? When one has a chovas hagavra, a personal halachic obligation, upon him, he is obligated to perform specific acts. The spiritual reasons for the success or failure of those actions cannot be neglected, but halachically those are not a replacement for those actions. Talmud Torah certainly contributes towards the community and its success, but it is never a halachic basis for absolving individuals of their other halachic obligations.

7. Some Hashkafic Points Regarding this Paradigm

The following remarks are secondary to my central argument, but put this discussion in its broader context.

I think there are a number of advantages of using this halachic paradigm. It seems odd to talk about advantages of a halachic position. Halacha is a fact and an obligation –“Mitzvos Lav Lihanos Nitnu”. Nevertheless, whilst we adopt a halachic position due to its correctness and truth, I think it is possible to talk about three advantages of this paradigm.

First, this paradigm has a far more social bent than other approaches. Saying that one is obligated to serve in a milchemes mitzva says nothing about the length of service. Indeed, many who will passionately talk about the great mitzva of serving in the army as a milchemes mitzva will serve for only a few months. This halachic paradigm is more socially orientated – frankly, it is Shivyon BaNetel, equality of the burden, in a halachic form. It thus allows us to give halachic expression to what may previously have seemed as “mere” Derech Eretz, the need to share the burden equally.

Additionally, there is another advantage of having a different model instead of milchemes mitzva as our basis for service. The language of milchemes mitzva allows for potential extremist tendencies. I am certainly not downplaying the very real threat that Israel faces from Gaza, Judea and Samaria, Syria, Lebanon and Iran, as well as the instability due to political changes in Egypt. However, using the term war, encouraging people to partake in the war of a mitzva, has more potential to lead to extremism than the more innocuous “guard duty” or “security needs of the town”. War, to many people, implies a clear two sides, involving an “us” versus “them”. Security needs implies there is a threat we must defend against. War implies killing the other person. Security needs implies defending through arrest, deterrence and only if need be, killing. The language of a societal need rather than war leaves less room for extremism.

Finally, this approach has a benefit in terms of framing the Religious Zionist outlook. The question regarding the place of Israel in Jewish thought and practice since the late 19th century has been the following – Can we overcome the tension between the ancient tradition of Judaism and the radically new environment in which Judaism finds itself? Secular Zionism said it couldn’t. Orthodox Non-Zionism said it wouldn’t. However, even the community that has said, as its banner, that we can and must overcome this tension continues to face numerous challenges in balancing the new with the old. A combination of many factors have served to make it difficult for many in Religious Zionist circles to see themselves as a continuation of the Jewish tradition, particularly the exilic Jewish tradition of the past two millennia.

The centrality of land, army and politics to the Religious Zionist worldview has no parallel in the last 1800 years of Jewish experience. Additionally, the focus on Eretz Yisrael and redemption has led many to see the experiences of the Jews in the Diaspora, both past and present, as part of a no longer relevant “Galut”. Finally, the unique blend of poetry and mysticism that is unique to the writing of Rav Kook has served to create a new language in which the national religious community frames its worldview. One would be hard pressed to find the words such as “Leumit”, phrases such as “Kismei HaKultura HaElilit” and books with names such as “Orot HaTechiya” in Jewish discourse up until Rav Kook. The terms, style and language are different than earlier sefarim, which enhances the break with the past.

On the one hand, it is natural and necessary to recognise that Israel is different than Galus. Yet it is also important to see ourselves, historically, socially and halachically, as directly continuing the Jewish experience of the last 2000 years. Typically, discussion of the Israeli army will end up linking us and our destinies with those of Yehoshua, the Maccabees and maybe Bar Kochba. Clearly, defending the state of Israel is not the same as defending a city in Provence or Spain. However, discussing the army as a continuation of how Jews lived in the interim eighteen hundred years since Bar Kochba is a welcome and important addition to our conceptual framework. It helps us apply the rules of Judaism in light of our new context, whilst ensuring a continuing connection to our past.

8. Conclusion

Based on the obligation found in Bava Basra and in later Rishonim and Poskim, there is an equal obligation on all people living in Israel to serve in the Israeli army. Whilst there may be a  Hora’as Sha’a, an emergency measure, requiring some to have shorter services based on the need to cultivate Rabbinic leadership and the potential spiritual hazards in the army, it is important to know the basic halachic starting point. Based on Chazal‘s rules of citizenship, it seems clear that everyone in Israel must serve equal time in the Israeli army.

I will stress again a point I made at the beginning – I am not a halachic authority. However, the halachic arguments seem to be clear. I do not feel I have forced the meaning, misrepresented or been selective about the halachic material. However, with all that taken into account, I encourage constructive criticism of my arguments. I hope that this article will add a new a facet to our understanding of the obligation to serve in the Israeli army.


  1. For example, he develops this argument in the first few minutes of <a href="http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/728907/rabbi_hershel_schachter/military_duty_in_the_state_of_israel">this shiur</a>. 

About Aron White

Aron White is a fourth year student at Yeshivat HaKotel.

32 comments

  1. Based on your own logic and conclusion,you must admit that a 19 and 25 year old Israeli only have the same obligation to serve in the army as does a 30 and 40 year old Israeli citizen.

    Thus, you’ll need to draft 30 and 40 (etc.) year old citizens before drafting yeshiva talmidim. You have no basis to draft yeshiva talmidim while exempting the vast majority of the population due to their age being above 26.

  2. Ben Torah, why do you draw that conclusion? It is a fact of nature that 20 year olds are in better physical shape than 40 year olds; the brain of a 20 year old is also better suited to soldiering than that of a 30 year old. On the other hand, the older you get, the better you can learn (possibly).

    The paradigm of “local laws” would require all Israeli citizens to serve. Of course, if we went with the paradigm of milchemet mitzvah, all Jews (men and women, perhaps) worldwide would be obligated to serve; so R’ Lichtenstein.

    • Nachum: I am simply going with only the halachic points, as the author presented them in this article. Just as they make no exemption for a yeshiva talmid, they also make no exemptions for 30 or 40 year olds or even for those who already served and completed their terms of service.

  3. Ben Torah – The paradigm of Bnei Ha`Ir does not require all people to serve at all times. Rather it requires all people to contribute to the extent that they need a service, and in the case where that service is to protect their life, they must then all contribute equally. Thus, a standard army service, followed by a standard Miluim service, is equal for everyone, and thus everyone is contributing equally.

    • Aron: It would help if you cited halachic sources for your assertions. But even without them what you are saying does not contradict what was earlier said. An immigrant to Israel at 30 years of age, or anyone in fact who hasn’t served and is 40 years of age, would equally be liable to be drafted under the halachic sources cited. No less than anyone else.

      • Ben Torah – The Tshuva of the Rashba mentioned in the article is a great example. The guard duty is split up between the different members – one does need need to have all the members of the city guarding at the same time, but it must be split equally. This is also clear from the fact that guard duty is considered as merely an extension of paying taxes. When paying taxes, the burden is shared equally, so too with guard duty.

        In terms of the Oleh issue, you are correct. If a fully fit person makes Aliya from Chutz La`aaretz aged 30, he has the same level of obligation as anyone else. (I responded earlier assuming we were talking about an Israeli citizen)
        However, it may be that people of that age are not able to sustain the rigors of an army service. Thus, although they are technically obligated to serve, they are unable to fulfil this obligation. However, this can be solved by solving in non combat units, and that does seem to be the best solution.

        • You seem to be assuming once someone served in a war he is then halachicly exempt for the rest of his life from defending the nation during any future wars. There is seemingly no halachic basis to make such an assumption. So even if someone legally fulfilled their military service 15 years ago and the country now goes to war, the veterans have the same halachic duty to serve as do the current non-vets who never served.

          • Ben Torah – not at all. I merely respond each time to the case we are talking about. The Bnei Hair makes everyone have to serve equally. Equally can mean that normal service is 3 years, plus Miluim, plus any other emergencies, like wars. That is equal for everyone. The paradigm of Bnei Ha`Ir does not say how long people should serve for, it merely says that everyone should share the security burden equally.

            • I will actually moderate my previous comment.
              I think that the best model for a situation of all out war is not a burden that must be shared, but the obligations of Lo Taamod al Dam Reacha, and primarily the war of Milchemes Mitzva. In this situation, that would be the be the best model. I think the Bnei Ha`Ir model is still true here, and the size of the burden has simply got bigger so must be borne my more people, but it is an odd way to look at it. Far better is the paradigm of Milchemes Mitzva, whereby in a situation of war, everyone is obligated to fight.

        • If a fully fit person makes Aliya from Chutz La`aaretz aged 30, he has the same level of obligation as anyone else. (I responded earlier assuming we were talking about an Israeli citizen)
          However, it may be that people of that age are not able to sustain the rigors of an army service. Thus, although they are technically obligated to serve, they are unable to fulfil this obligation. However, this can be solved by solving in non combat units, and that does seem to be the best solution.

          R. Aron, I don’t think that this logic is necessary to defend your thesis. Ben Torah’s question is invalid from the start. The halacha gives the B’nei Ir the right to compel each other as long as it is done fairly. There is no prescription that all ages have to participate equally, as you mention. That will be up to the B’nei Ir to decide. Similarly, if the current citizens want to set up the rules for future citizens to make it easier for them to come to the country, that would completely satisfy the fairness requirement, since they are adding a burden to themselves while exempting someone that isn’t making the decision. In addition, they are doing it in light of their overall interest in attracting older newcomers.

  4. Aron, Where do any of the sources you present include women within this paradigm of Bnei Ha’Ir? Furthermore, to quote a passage about the obligations of community members to serve guard duty when threatened with extinction, and then to generalize to the present day defending of the state of Israel and its long term of service as well as the tremendous intellectual, physical and perhaps ethical detriments such a long period of service entails is, I think, questionable. With that being said, I commend you for developing a novel approach to this issue.

    • Wouldn’t a simpler paradigm be partnership? If partners own property, wouldn’t the partnership decide how t allocate guard duty?

      • It seems difficult to regard a country’s citizens as partners in that property. First, there is private ownership of land. Second, a partnership requires a formal legal transaction to join the partners together (Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 176:1).

        • A landowner tells 10 separate individuals they are free to live in an old farmhouse. The farmhouse boiler requires constant attention to ensure it doesn’t blow up. What model do you suggest for allocating boiler guard responsibilities?

          • I think that Bnei Ha’Ir is the best model. None of them have property rights to the place they are living in, so it is cetainly not a Shutfus. They need to protect their life, so it should be similar to Bnei Ha’Ir.

            • OK, you are defining partnership in a limited (property rights) manner which is fine. Where do you think the bnai ha’ir halacha flows from (i.e. where is the halchic authority to force someone who lives in the town to do something like do boiler watch duty)?

    • Furthermore, to quote a passage about the obligations of community members to serve guard duty when threatened with extinction, and then to generalize to the present day defending of the state of Israel and its long term of service as well as the tremendous intellectual, physical and perhaps ethical detriments such a long period of service entails is, I think, questionable.

      Why is that? The greater the need, the more justified that the citizens would be to compel one another into service. There is a public good that everyone agrees needs to be achieved; achieving it through a fair set of laws enacted by the representatives of the public seems to fit the paradigm exactly.

      • First off, I would argue that the greater need is found in the Gemera’s case. But irrespective of that, there is simply no comparison in terms of the amount of sacrifice that is obligated on each citizen if they would equally share the burden now as opposed to the sharing of local guard duty in the times of the gemera. That being so, I think a separation of roles is obviously called for, as we cannot expect each individual citizen to contribute exactly equally.

        • First off, I would argue that the greater need is found in the Gemera’s case.

          Fixing the roads is more important than the IDF? They are both very important, but I think that we can clearly distinguish.

          But irrespective of that, there is simply no comparison in terms of the amount of sacrifice that is obligated on each citizen if they would equally share the burden now as opposed to the sharing of local guard duty in the times of the gemera. That being so, I think a seperation of roles is obviously called for, as it is foolish and naive to expect each individual citizen to contribute exactly equally.
          .
          That is certainly true and of course that is what is done. Some actually serve, while others via taxes, pay their salaries or pay the costs of sustaining the army, etc.
          .
          But the point remains, based on these sources, that the citizens have an obligation to raise an army and the right to force each other to participate as long as this is done in a fair way, the definition of fairness in the Gemara and in the various cases being discussed in the sources cited by the author.

          • I was talking about defending ones city from extinction, not fixing the roads. As to your second point, I think we have come to an agreement, albiet one is not in consonance of the author. That being that everyone is required to serve in essentially exactly the same way as his peer, something which I once again dispute.

            • I was talking about defending ones city from extinction, not fixing the roads

              Sorry that I still don’t follow:
              .
              1) One of the Gemara’s cases is fixing the roads. So the IDF is a more important need than the place where the Gemara says that you can compel payment even from Rabanan.
              .
              2) For the sake of argument, if the city wall case is concerned with “extinction”, it is still no more important than today’s situation. It is certainly true that with no IDF, there would be pretty certain extinction to the state or worse.
              .
              As to your second point, I think we have come to an agreement, albiet one is not in consonance of the author. That being that everyone is required to serve in essentially exactly the same way as his peer, something which I once again dispute.
              .
              I didn’t get that of of the post. All it proves is that the citizens have the right to compel participation in a fair way. In the case of the physical labor to restore the roads, I assume that not everyone is working everyday exactly equally or that they would compel a 60 year old man the same as a 20 year old.

              • Author’s Conclusion: “Based on Chazal‘s rules of citizenship, it seems clear that everyone in Israel must serve equal time in the Israeli army.”

                • I took that to mean that everyone must serve “up to” equal time based on the requirements set out by the B’nei HaIr. If the author intended it more rigidly, then I would agree with your disagreement.

                  So my interpretation would be that if the public votes an exemption for “X” Yeshiva students, that this would be fine as long as it was fairly distributed. But if they then made the exemption “Y” where Y is less than X, it would also be valid.

  5. Netanel Kleinman

    I would like to commend you on a superbly written article. However I would like to question one point you made if I may. I must stress that I have very little knowledge and certainly far less than the writer of this article. I’m not sure we can compare fixing roads and walls which is an infrequent repair job to the constant “job” of being in the army which will occupy all of an individuals time. The same must be said of the Rashba’s teshuva regarding guard duty. A guard duty means taking a few hours to protect an area and afterwards the person returns to their job/in the case of our discussion to the Beis Hamidrash. If that were to be the scenario we were discussing there would be far fewer objections, but we are not. The implication of the Shulchan Aruch and the Teshuvas HaRashbah may be that in a case where there is only minor inconvenience/monetary loss/time away from home that everyone is equally obligated, but in a case like the army this would not be true. Thoughts would be appreciated

  6. Shkoyach on a novel and interesting approach to this. However, there is one issue that you appear to be overlooking. Namely, this is a Choshen Mishmat din, not one from Orach Chayim, and as such mechila works. That is, should the community decide they wish to exempt a group of people from their communal obligations for whatever reason, they are within their rights to do so. In this case, in as much as the Knesset represents the community and is in charge of the Neturei Karta (sorry, I couldn’t help myself), they can provide exemptions b’toras mechilah.
    For example, the community as a whole would be well within their rights to decide that certain people (e.g. medical personnel or those needed to maintain the electrical grid) serve an essential function in their normal capacity, and, as such, should be exempted from conscription so as not to interrupt these services. This is not because their normal function “counts” as defending the town, but because the tzibor as a whole has been mochel on their chiyuv.
    Similarly, consider a situation in which the leadership determines that (to make up numbers) 500,000 soldiers are needed for a properly functioning guard force, and 1,000,000 men are available for conscription. They can do one of two things: exempt some people from guard duty or halve the service requirement. Now, suppose further (not unrealistically) that there is some minimal length of service such that any shorter term is grossly inefficient in terms of the time and cost required to train a new guard to active duty. Presumably, you would agree that they needn’t recruit more soldiers than they actually need, nor that the tzibor should be forced to maintain a larger force than necessary. In such a situation, the tzibur would be well within their rights to exempt people by e.g. a lottery. Similarly, the Neturei Karta leadership (in this case, the Knesset) could decide that to broaden their list of essential professions to include those whose work contributes to the community in other ways, which could perfectly well include yeshivaleit.
    Again, this is not necessarily because they would be fundamentally exempt from conscription, but simply because, through mechila, the Neturei Karta (sorry, it’s just too much fun) leadership (e.g. the elected representatives) could simply say, “On behalf of the bnei ha-ir, we are forgiving your obligation.”

  7. I understand that this point was addressed in the article, and I wanted to add a few points: Regarding the exemption of those studying in Yeshiva, the two objections which were raised is that they must contribute physically to communal needs which they partake of, and that it touches on a Hashkafic issue. Regarding the first, is there a source for that assertion? It doesn’t seem to me that they need to contribute physically to the effort, it sounds more like any form of contribution necessary, which happens to be, in the case of the roads, physical. In this case however, if the Gemara in Makkos is to be taken at face value, learning Torah should constitute a contribution to the effort of protection, and thus serve as an exemption. This also seems to contradict the latter point: The difference between this case and the case of learning for Hachnasat Orchim is obvious. The Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim is to host guests, which one who learns isn’t doing. The Mitzvah here is to contribute to the protection, which, assuming Makkos is meant literally, is being accomplished by learning. The learning isn’t to earn protection, it IS the protection. In any event, those are my thoughts, and any input would be appreciated.

  8. Doron Beckerman

    This article, as it relates to those studying Torah, lives or dies depending on how we define a Talmid Chacham vis-à-vis Bnei Ha’ir. As I wrote in my articles and comments on Cross-currents that pertain to this issue, it is quite clear from the Terumas Hadeshen, which is the source for Rema’s statement, and crystal clear from the Maharitatz, R’ Chaim Palaji, and R’ Moshe Sternbuch, and, by inference, from R’ Moshe Feinstein’s responsum with regard to drafting Bnei Yeshiva, (albeit admittedly contra Chazon Ish in Emunah Ubitachon) that the Rema means only that the person is involved in full time learning, is capable of picking a Gemara/Rishon in most places in the Talmud and understanding it on his own, and is comfortable with classic halachic give-and-take. This applies to any solid product of a Yeshiva Ketanah.

  9. This article, as it relates to those studying Torah, lives or dies depending on how we define a Talmid Chacham vis-à-vis Bnei Ha’ir.
    .
    Not at all. There is little doubt that all of Israel’s citizens, including the most learned, would suffer serious harm if, hypothetically, the IDF simply disbanded and packed in it. Israeli borders are not like those between the US and Canada. Thus, it is not clear that the exemption for Rabanan applies at all in this case.
    .
    I don’t have time to grab the sources inside, but R. Slifkin brought the following sources to support this: 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.
    .
    As I wrote in my articles and comments on Cross-currents that pertain to this issue, it is quite clear from the Terumas Hadeshen, which is the source for Rema’s statement, and crystal clear from the Maharitatz, R’ Chaim Palaji, and R’ Moshe Sternbuch, and, by inference, from R’ Moshe Feinstein’s responsum with regard to drafting Bnei Yeshiva, (albeit admittedly contra Chazon Ish in Emunah Ubitachon) that the Rema means only that the person is involved in full time learning, is capable of picking a Gemara/Rishon in most places in the Talmud and understanding it on his own, and is comfortable with classic halachic give-and-take. This applies to any solid product of a Yeshiva Ketanah.
    .
    Rav Moshe’s teshuva doesn’t bear on the topic at all. Briefly, 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.
    .
    Rav Moshe nowhere defines the parameters of Rabanan, or does he say that his correspondents fall into the category of Rabanan, because he does not derive any exemption for his correspondents directly fro the Gemara.
    .
    As far as Terumas HaDeshen, I don’t have time to look inside now, but R. Slifkin wrote on his blog: “The Terumas HaDeshen is describing self-selecting elite students who trudge from city to city (and are apparently thereby exempt from taxes) while simultaneously being fluent in most of the Talmud and Geonim.”
    .
    Apologies for referring to sources that I don’t have the time to quote directly right now…

  10. I apologise to those I have not responded to yet. I am attempting to organise the different issues raised, and organise the answers accordingly.

    Rabbi Beckerman – on Cross Currents I could I only find this article ( http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2014/03/28/more-on-drafting-yeshiva-boys/) which did not mention the defition of a Talmid Chacham. Could you post your sources about the definition of a Talmid Chacham? (This is not a challenge or a denial of you having them, but I merely want to be read the sources, and respond accordingly) Thank you

  11. Doron Beckerman

    I’m sorry that I do not have time to get into a lengthy back and forth right now. But:

    1) This article does not address the parameters raised by Radvaz and CS.

    2) RMF would be in rather stark disagreement with Rema if not interpreted as I did, as you yourself pointed out in the original response to my article.

    3)The assertion that Terumas Hadeshen is referring to the upper, upper echelons of the generation’s Talmud scholars as those who trudge around from city to city is both illogical and ahistorical. The earliest source I have found that addresses the ThD is the Maharitatz, and like I said, it is crystal clear that it, and, in turn, Rema, are to be interpreted as above.

    Aron White,

    My sources are in the comment section to my response to Rabbi Slifkin.

    All the best.

    • It does seem that the Rema is quite clearly referring to the a very high level of Talmid Chacham. The first part of his sentence is “It does not matter if he is a Rosh Yeshiva or not, all that is needed is that he is known in his generation as a Talmid Chacham etc.” This seems to be clearly referring to those with the highest levels of scholarship. Both elements of this (the mention that he does not need to be a Rosh Yeshiva and the fact that he needs to be known in his generation) indicate that we are referring to a few very select individuals.

    • This article does not address the parameters raised by Radvaz and CS.

      Rabbi Beckerman, you raised the claim that the thesis of this article fails if the definition of Rabanan in Bava Basra includes all those learning in a Yeshiva. It is your claim that depends on the notion that everyday IDF protection is not needed by people learning in a Yeshiva and is thus comparable to a city watchman and not comparable to a universal public need such as upkeep of the roads. Common sense and the sources mentioned (if quoted accurately as I did not see them inside) undermine your claim, regardless of whether or not they were mentioned in the original article.

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