Parashas Devarim 5773 -- Enough Torah?; True Arichus Yamim
by Jonathan Rosenblum
July 12, 2013
I was at the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) annual convention last week, where I spoke the day after Yesh Atid MK Dov Lipman's keynote address. Lipman artfully crafted his narrative of a young American idealist drawn to Beit Shemesh by its kaleidoscope population, and then disillusioned by intra-religious confrontation. Only in Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party did he find the mutual respect between religious and non-religious he craved upon making aliyah.
While impressed by Lipman's ability to kasher Yesh Atid for a gathering of Orthodox rabbis, with a Kumbaya story of social amity, I was more interested in gleaning hints as to Yesh Atid's actual program.
MK Lipman noted that the committee headed by Yesh Atid MK Yaakov Peri on the draft had explicitly exempted chareidi yeshiva students reaching the age of 21 from any threat of being drafted for the next four years – i.e., beyond the term of the present government. He quoted an anonymous rosh yeshiva to the effect that 30% of current yeshiva students will opt to enter the job market or enter academic or vocational training programs if freed from fear of the draft.
The 30% figure is ridiculous, and made more so by the current climate of confrontation, which will increase social pressure within the chareidi community to remain in yeshiva. But the agreement of the Peri Committee to a four-year waiting period, ostensibly to allow the IDF to develop suitable arrangements to accommodate large numbers of chareidi soldiers, suggests that Yesh Atid's primary goal is integration of chareidi yeshiva students and kolleleit into the economy, not into the IDF.
Lipman mentioned plans for a chareidi hesder yeshiva combining military service and Torah study, but otherwise had little to say about how the IDF, which has made gender-integration central to its social mission, could accommodate any large influx of chareidi recruits. The IDF has no interest in the logistical headache of creating an entire separate army for chareidi bochurim, especially at a time when budgetary constraints are forcing reductions in training and procurement. And even if the IDF were so inclined to create two separate armies, it is unlikely that the Supreme Court, which has ordered gender-integration of all units, would permit it to do so.
LIPMAN'S ONLY DISCUSSION of the actual number of likely chareidi recruits was to mention 3,000 technical positions that would be suitable for properly trained chareidi men. The irony, of course, is that Yesh Atid has largely succeeded in demolishing the most successful of the IDF programs for training chareidi men for the type of technical positions that constitute one of the IDF's critical manpower needs: the Shachar program, primarily designed for chareidi married men in their mid-twenties.
Until the advent of Yesh Atid, the sight of former avreichim in uniform was becoming commonplace in chareidi communities. That has all changed with Yesh Atid's large across-the-board budget cuts to chareidi educational institutions and to all social spending from which large numbers of chareidi families benefit.
Those draconian cuts have triggered a backlash in the chareidi community against the trends towards greater integration into the economy, academic studies, and the IDF, particularly the latter. Social ostracism of enlistees in the Shachar program has shot up. Former avreichim are complaining of abuse and even of being spat upon and physically menaced. As Yitzchak Lifshitz of the Shalem Center puts it, "It takes a long time for social processes to develop, but only one bull in the china shop [i.e, Yesh Atid] to bring them to a halt." (Let me be clear, I do not mean to condone or exculpate the attacks on chareidi men in uniform.)
For good measure, Finance Minister Lapid's proposed budget included dramatic reductions in the benefits received by married enlistees in the Shachar program, which will further decrease the number of enlistees.
IT WOULD SEEM from MK Lipman's presentation that the focus of the Yesh Atid vision on the "equality of burden" issue is some form of national service for the vast majority of yeshiva students starting at age 21, with the option of that service taking place within the chareidi community. One-quarter of the annual chareidi draft cohort of approximately 7200 young men, or about 1,800, will have their Torah learning recognized as national service and receive government support until the age of 26.
Lipman did not elaborate at length on the national service concept, other than to say that there is nothing embarrassing or degraded about a yeshiva student dealing with bedpans. Notable by its absence was any attempt to make the case that the new national service frameworks would be anything other than an administrative nightmare and a needless financial burden during a period of budget cutting. Nor did he argue that the chareidi recruits would provide the answer to critical manpower needs or do anything other than take away low-paying jobs from poor Israeli workers. Finally, such national service, particularly if most of it was in the chareidi sector, would do little to calm the outcry "Equality of burdens," that has been the centerpiece of Yesh Atid's campaign from the beginning.
The underlying premise of the national service plan seems to be that forcing chareidim to submit to the dictates of the state and forego their yeshiva learning – no matter how little benefit that service provides – is a self-evident good. And that conclusion rests on another corollary: the learning of the 1,800 "iluim" is more than enough Torah learning.
From Lipman's other writings and interviews, the latter does appear to be his view. He has claimed that were he writing the exams, there would be no more than 400 such "iluim" entitled to exemptions. And elsewhere he asked rhetorically why the hour or so of Torah learning of young chareidi recruits in Nachal Chareidi or older enlistees in the Shachar program does not constitute sufficient protection.
I CAN UNDERSTAND how it is possible to say that a particular individual -- even many such individuals -- is not suited to full-time learning, either by virtue of his familial situation, inclinations and talents, or ability to contribute to Klal Yisrael in other ways. But I cannot understand how any believing Jew could ever think that we have enough Torah learning, and all the more so in the present security situation in which six million Jews in Eretz Yisrael find themselves.
Is not the starting point for every believing Jew that the ultimate determinant of the security of Klal Yisrael is our relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu? Can anyone living in Eretz Yisrael today look around with confidence in the quality of that relationship? The sins for which the Torah explicitly tells us the Land spits out its inhabitants proliferate.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch's words, written at the beginning of Jewish resettlement of Eretz Yisrael, haunt us. Hirsch warned that there is no Divine promise that we will not be exiled once again from our Land: "From time to time in the course of the centuries, G-d allowed His people to touch the Land again. He put them to the test to see whether the miracle of their existence through centuries of exile had at last taught them to utterly despise the gods of the earth and had eradicated their stiff-necked refusal to acknowledge the Divine word." Are we passing that test today?
Nor are threats to Israel's existence notable by their absence. Each border is devolving towards increased chaos, and in the absence of any effective centralized government jihadists of various stripes pour in. And hovering about everything is the imminent threat of a nuclear Iran, pledged to incinerate Israel.
Even in the best of times, there can never be too much Torah learning. And these are not the best of times.
True Arichus Yamim
A rabbinic friend of mine recently juxtaposed two funerals he attended the same day in a way that brought home poignantly how little the length of our lives – arichus shanim – has to do with the impact of those lives – arichus yamim.
One funeral was that of the 95-year-old father of someone with whom he has professional contact through the local Jewish Federation. The presiding clergywoman could come up with nothing to say of the deceased other than that he took great pride in his fine head of hair and that he loved his car – so much so that even when he was no longer able to drive he would sit in the car and listen to the radio.
The other funeral was of a five-year-old boy. Successive maspidim pointed to the niftar's courage and to the thousands of deeds of chesed he inspired others to perform for his merit. No one present could have possibly asked: What was the purpose of his life?
The latter levaya reminded me of an article I once read at Aish.com by Mrs. Slovie Jungreis-Wolff, in which she described five-year-old Lily (Leah Chana), the daughter of a couple in her parenting classes. Even while undergoing difficult chemotherapy and enduring much suffering from a brain tumor, Lily, a"h, maintained her concern for others and did not focus on herself.
When her kindergarten class considered what to do with the money in the tzedakah boxes the children had helped fashion, Lily mentioned that in her doctor's office many of the other children had only broken toys or no toys at all to play with, and suggested that the class contribute to toys for the doctor's office. That suggestion was unanimously adopted.
During the course of her battle with the tumor, hundreds of woman, many of whom did not previously light Shabbos candles, did so with a special prayer for Lily, and other young children who heard about "Lily's Tzedakah" contributed money they had saved to buy toys for those most in need of cheering up.
None of us know in advance the length of our years, but we can learn from Lily to fill up each of our days with as much good as possible.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics, Israeli Society, Jewish Ethics, Social Issues
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