Friday, May 7, 2010

The Haredi Army - Thoughts for Parashat Behar-Bechukotai

Secular Jews really don't like Haredim. This is something you hear all the time, both in the media, and in private conversations. You might have heard Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai's rant against the Haredi education system recently. (Just as an aside, he'll only grow stronger in Israeli secular society for voicing his opinion on the issue.) Sitting at a wedding this week, a friend of mine now working in an Israeli hospital said, "You know, most Israelis really don't like religious people. At all." I know.
Making a broad generalization, secular Israelis have two main complaints against Hareidi society:
  1. Hareidim don't serve in the army
  2. Hareidim don't really work, and they live off social services and benefits
While both complaints have a great degree of truth to them, there are cracks in the dam. Hareidim have begun enlisting in the IDF in special units, and their numbers will continue to grow. Moreover, the recent financial crisis and the massive funding cuts for countless yeshivot has generated a wave of underfunded educators and kollel fellows. Yeshivot are simply months behind - often many months - on their payrolls, and the light at the end of the tunnel has yet to appear. But children still have to eat, so many Hareidim have begun to enter the workforce through supplementary vocational training and job placement. But, for the vast majority of Hareidi society, the stereotypes still hold true.
Except, at least for the army part, the underlying values might not.
The complaint that Haredim don't serve in the army assumes that their learning in Kollel has no intrinsic national value. But, according to a comment of the Netziv in Ha'amek Davar on this week's parshah, that assumption is simply not true.

Concluding the section describing the Yovel year, the Torah tells us, (25:18)
וַעֲשִׂיתֶם, אֶת-חֻקֹּתַי, וְאֶת-מִשְׁפָּטַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ, וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם--וִישַׁבְתֶּם עַל-הָאָרֶץ, לָבֶטַח
Wherefore ye shall do My statutes, and keep Mine ordinances and do them; and ye shall dwell in the land in safety. (sorry about the Old Tyme translations. I get them from Mechon Mamre who got them from the JPS in 1917.)
Commenting on this verse, Netziv writes,
הוא הטעם והסיבה מה שנדרש בשני היובל להגדיל תורה, דשמירת הארץ מאוה"ע הוא ע"י אנשי חיל היושבים על הספר, וביובל אין אנשי חיל חמושים למלחמה שהרי כל א' שב לאחזותו ולמשפחתו, וא"כ יש סכנה בישיבת הארץ, שנית דלשמירת הארץ נדרש שיהיה אוצרות המלך במבצרים כדכתיב בדה"ב י"א כ"ג, ויובל הבא אחר שנה שביעית כבר האוצרות מתרקנות, מש"ה הזהיר הכתוב "ועשיתם את חקתי וגו'", ופלפולה של תורה היא חרבם של ישראל, והיא המוספת שמירת המדינה, וכל מה שהמלחמה יותר מסוכנת יש לחדד יותר החרב...
This is the understanding and the reason for the fact that during the years of Yovel we must increase [our study of] Torah, for the guarding of the Land from the nations of the world is through the warriors who sit over their books. And during the Yovel year, there are no warriors armed for war, for each and every person returned to his property and his family, and if so there is a danger to the settlement of the Land. Secondly, in order to guard the Land this requires that the coffers of the king be full...and during the Yovel year, which comes after the Shemittah year the coffers have already been emptied. For this reason the verse warns us, "And you shall do my statutes.." and the battle of Torah is the sword of Israel, and adds to the security of the State. And the greater the danger in war, the more we must sharpen this sword.
Some fight with their swords. Others fight with their books. I guess the question is, do they see it that way?