Should certain people not join the army of the State of Israel

We have all been reading with interest about the expiration of the Tal Law, which had afforded “Kollel Yungerleit” the opportunity to avoid military service in the State of Israel on account of their extended and continued full time study of Torah. We have also heard many Gedolim say that this is a situation of יהרג ועל יעבור … that people should give up their lives rather than join the army.

Parshas Shoftim describes the process whereby the Cohen, משוח מלחמה explains the procedures before warfare. First he encourages the troops and tells them that they only should fear Hashem and not the enemy, then he describes the categories of soldier (male soldiers, of course) who are exempt from battle (anyone is engaged but yet to marry a woman, anyone who has built a house but did not move in, anyone who has planted a vineyard but has yet to reap a harvest, and anyone who feels afraid). The Shotrim (policemen/miitary staff) then repeat this to groups of soldiers, according to Rashi.

There are two broad categories of war: the Milchemes Mitzvah (loosely described as a war where one defends the very existence/populace) and a Milchemes Reshus (a type of warfare which is waged for other reasons). A Milchemes Mitzvah is obviously a more serious, life threatening situation, and so we fine that the Mishne in Sotah (8:7) states that the aforementioned exemptions do not apply to a Milchemes Mitzvah. In other words, when it comes to defending the very existence of the people/State, it’s “all hands on the deck”.

Strangely, the Rambam at the beginning of the seventh chapter of Hilchos Melachim, states that the Cohen also announces these exemptions for a Milchemes Mitzvah. How can the Rambam contradict a clear Mishna? One explanation I read from Rav Schachter in the name of the Rav is that there is a dual obligation when anyone goes to war. One obligation is a national obligation. The person is part of the כלל and in the sense that the כלל is threatened in a Milchemes Mitzvah, the Torah does not provide an opportunity for exemption. There is also an individual obligation, the obligation of the פרט, the potential soldier who signs up for military service or considers doing so. In a Milchemes Reshus, the Cohen explains that someone who is in one of the aforementioned categories is strongly urged to stay home. They aren’t needed, and furthermore it could be argued that they may even damage morale by virtue of their preponderant thoughts.

According to the Rav, the Rambam is saying that even in a Milchemes Mitzvah, the Cohen explains the laws of the פרט being absolved from joining the armed forces before they defend the nation. It is necessary to explain the difference, and stress that this is only an exemption in as much as they are private individuals, however, since they are about to embark on a life and death battle for the defence of the people and the State, the aspect of the כלל affords them no exemption.

Of course, there are other explanations. Reflecting on this on Parshas Shoftim, I have great difficulty understanding how those who ostensibly don’t feel politically part of the State, give themselves the right to also not feel existentially part of the כלל.

Certainly, as I sit in Melbourne, Australia, I’m not exactly entitled to criticise the life and death decisions taken by those who live in Eretz HaKodesh. I am, however, entitled, I believe to ask for an explanation in light of the above.

Author: pitputim

I've enjoyed being a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia, as well as band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel and later in life at Machon L'Hora'ah, Yeshivas Halichos Olam.

4 thoughts on “Should certain people not join the army of the State of Israel”

  1. your statement “…and anyone who feels afraid).” is explained by Rashi to mean that he is afraid because of sins that he had committed.
    Can I suggest that your readers follow up Rashi’s source and see the type of sin that gives exemption from military service.


  2. You are right, it is difficult to comment on who should and shouldn’t join the IDF when one resides within the comforts and safety of the diaspora. However,since you have raised the question. …..
    Rashi, quoting the gemoroh Sotah states that the reason why the Cohen says Shema Yisroel atem kreivim etc. that even if the only zechus one has is that of kriyas shema, he can be assured of Hashem’s help. Mivtzah tefilin would ensure that many would have had the opportunity to recite the Shema at least once.:)
    It would be fair to say that Israel today is in a constant state of a potential milchemes mitzvah.Yes?
    Those, that the Cohen announces to be exempt, doesn’t include those who are in a kollel. Rambam doesn’t list them niether.
    Even if we go according to the opinion of Rabbi Yossi Haglili, that if one is afraid because the sins he has committed that he is exempt, the question can be asked, who isn’t afraid of that? How many soldiers would there be in the army after such a consideration?
    And, if one is studying Torah all day, wouldn’t he be more suitable to go to war since he would hardly have committed many sins and thus be assured of Hashems’ yeshuah…..oh wait……ein soimchin al haness.


  3. Pitputim,
    I recently came across a fascinating Or Hachaim that indirectly relates to the issue at hand of mandatory army service.

    The Or Hachaim explains the justification behind the 2 1/2 Shvatim’s request not to cross the Jordan river into Eretz Yisrael and not fight for the land alongside their brethren.

    He finds their justification in the words “הארץ אשר הכה ה”. Since God has promised the Jewish people victory in their conquest of Eretz Yisrael, the Shvatim’s participation in the battle is unnecessary, for victory has been guaranteed.

    Moshe however counters that argument by saying האחיכם יבואו למלחמה ואתם תשבו פה. Although the 2 1/2 Shvatim are correct that victory is guaranteed, there is still a need for battle, which entails effort on the part of the fighters, and therefore the Shvatim’s request for exemption is unjustified, for why should your brothers experience the hardships of war while you are exempt.

    This Or Hachaim clearly makes the argument of national equality in carrying the burden of military service even if their participation is not essential to success, based on the argument why should part of the nation be exempt while their brethren endures the suffering and pain of war.


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