Follow by Email

Monday, 3 March 2014

Should haredim be forced to do army service?

Sukkah 28

Yesterday, hundreds of thousands of haredim blocked off the streets of Jerusalem protesting the government’s decision to extend mandatory conscription to all Israeli Jews.  Many donned sackcloth and one rabbi was quoted on TV as suggesting that the current unrest, could G-d forbid lead to another political assassination.  Is the current situation an example of fighting a war for the sake of Heaven?

The Mishnah asks, “If it began to rain, when may one leave [the sukkah]? [Answers the Mishnah:] When one’s porridge would get ruined.  They offer the following analogy: To what may this be compared?  To a servant who comes to pour a cup for his master, and he (the master) pours the pitcher in his face.”

Rabbi Moshe Iserles (the Rema) writes that if it is raining, one does not receive reward for eating in the sukkah, because it is clear that G-d has rejected us from the sukkah, as the master who rejects his servant’s drink.  To eat in the sukkah none the less, says the Rema, is the behaviour of simpletons.  Rather, one should exit the sukkah with one’s head bowed in a subdued manner and accept G-d’s decision gracefully.

Certainly, if the rain does not bother you, says the Mishna Berura, one needn’t leave the sukkah.  Some people, though, will sit in the sukkah in the pouring rain, obviously suffering through their meal but all the while believing they are doing a mitzvah!  That’s not a mitzvah, says the Rema, that’s an insult to the Almighty, it demonstrates an unwillingness to accept the Divine decision. 

So too with many other mitzvos.  Mitzvos are about bringing honour to G-d.  When we do G-d’s will, it must bring Him honour.  If it doesn’t, we must ask ourselves if this is really what He wants from us.  If in the process of striving for Torah and mitzvos, we bring dishonour to the Torah, then that it is a telltale sign that we are on the wrong track.

An important preamble to any discussion of conscription in the State of Israel is the reminder that those  of us who have not yet taken up the challenge of Aliyah and whose children do not have to spend three years on the battlefield, have no right to tell others that they must send their kids out to war.  Certainly, other Israelis who have made those sacrifices are entitled to make demands upon their fellow citizens, but we in the Diaspora should be cautioned against passing judgment.

What concerns me, however, in examining the attitudes of the average Israeli towards the haredi community and in watching the haredi community demonstrate en masse for the honour of the Torah, is are they truly bringing honour to the Torah?   If the intention is to enhance Torah, then one must be very careful as to how one acts, if one claims to be a Jew who is committed to Torah.

A life dedicated to full-time Torah study is admirable.  But if dedicating oneself to Torah brings disdain to the Torah and the Orthodox community, then it is like the master who throws the pitcher of water in the servant’s face.  Sometimes, says the Rema, one must humbly bow one’s head and recognize that this might not be what G-d wants.  G-d wants people to honour the Torah.  Every action that we do must bring honour to the Torah; otherwise we have forgotten the ultimate purpose of our Torah study.

“The Torah that Moshe commanded us is an inheritance for [entire] congregation of Jacob.”  Our job in this world is to share that inheritance with all of our brothers and sisters.  We achieve this important task by demonstration – not demonstration that turns people away from Torah; rather by demonstrating that the Torah-observant community consists of the some of the noblest people in this world.

You represent Torah!  Act like it, and make all those who encounter you want to be part of the secret to your incredible life!  Together we will bring true honour to the Torah!