Purim Torah

If one were trying to prove to the Chareidi community that the new draft bill is not an attempt at coercive social engineering, that it is not motivated by a desire to change Chareidi life, or that there is a real effort to develop understanding and to work for mutual benefit, then one could scarcely imagine a more counterproductive effort than recent pieces attempting to “prove” from Torah sources that the unanimous position of the Gedolim is, in a word, wrong.

The Teshuvah of Reb Moshe zt”l referenced by R’ Yair Hoffman is clear and unambiguous. To claim that R’ Moshe was referring only to “scholars” or “metzuyanim” makes a pretzel from the straight words of his Teshuvah. R’ Moshe says that his words apply to “מי שלומד בישיבה גדולה ועוסק בתורה,” “whomever sits in yeshiva gedolah and involves himself with Torah.” According to R’ Moshe, the Gemara makes no distinction between Zekeinim and Tzurbah MiRabanon, between elders and the young — all are Rabanon, and “רבנן לא צריכי נטירותא” (they need no defense nor to participate in defense) applies to them all. It is his position that one who has a desire to learn Torah and become great in Torah should attend yeshiva, not go to the Army. That’s what the Teshuvah says in black and white, all the efforts to obscure its words to the contrary. Chazal say “אין דבר עומד בפני הרצון,” “nothing stands before the will” — the sole criterion that determines who should be allowed to sit in yeshiva is the desire to learn.

But that’s not even the point. How any of us understand R’ Moshe — or, for that matter, the Rambam, Rashi, or Rav Kook — is completely irrelevant. R’ Moshe’s leading disciples have their opinion, and it is unanimous. The very idea that one can “debate” halacha with the current Gedolei Torah, people to whose toenails none of us reach in understanding of Torah, demonstrates understanding of neither what it takes to become a Torah scholar of that stature, nor what it means to be Chareidi.

To be Chareidi means to recognize the authority of Gedolei Torah in all Torah matters, to accept the position expressed so clearly by Rav Herschel Schachter (among others) that basic life decisions are Torah matters and subject to Rabbinic guidance, and thus to subscribe to the guidance of Gedolei Torah, period, full stop. And frankly, to be Chareidi requires a degree of humility. It requires that a person accept his own limitations, rather than try to explain why neurosurgeons don’t understand neurosurgery, why mathematicians don’t know math, or (l’havdil) the Gedolei Torah don’t understand Torah.

For many observant Jews to disagree with our Gedolim is hardly a new phenomenon. The majority of the Jews chose to ignore the directive of the Rabbanon that one should not go to the party held by King Achashverosh, although the food offered to Jews was at the highest standards of kashrus. The majority of Jews thought they knew better, felt they had to participate to honor the King and participate in state matters, and went to the party. Later, most Jews thought that Mordechai was being needlessly obstinate about bowing to Haman. One who subscribed to that position would conclude that it was not attendance at the party, but Mordechai’s refusal to bow, which nearly led to the annihilation of the Jewish people. The celebration of Purim centers around the notion that the Torah leaders of each generation see clearly what the rest of us do not.

The problem is that the rest of the “case” for conscription of yeshiva students is no more logical. The Army does not need more soldiers. It has enough discipline problems without attempting to control battalions of Chareidi soldiers who will disobey orders every Shacharis, Mincha and Maariv, to say nothing of Shabbos and Yom Tov. [I heard recently from a father whose son contemplated joining Nachal Chareidi that many/most of the boys in the program are similar to the American teens at risk who are helped by mixed yeshiva-work programs. These are boys who were less likely to adhere to Rabbinic standards; the Army has no experience whatsoever with a battalion of regular bochurim.] Yair Lapid spent his time in the Army writing newspaper articles, yet no one questions why he did not serve in a combat unit; that is reserved for those writing Chidushei Torah instead. So they’re left with no choice but to attempt to delegitimize the unanimous opinion of all Chareidi leaders, our Gedolim, that Torah study is service to the Jewish nation at a more profound level, and that all those who choose to remain in yeshiva should be permitted to do so.

This attempt to argue that the current Eynei Ha’Eydah (“Eyes of the Congregation”) have been reading it wrong demonstrates not only disrespect for their tremendous knowledge of Torah, but “al korchach,” as an obvious and necessary consequence, attempts to change the chareidi lifestyle — which begins and ends with following their guidance — exactly the thing proponents of the draft bill are claiming not to want to do. It is no more sensible or rational than the “gay rights” activists who would like us to believe that we have been reading the Book of Leviticus incorrectly for the last few thousand years.

And as Purim Torah goes, it’s not even particularly funny.

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