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Op-Ed: When Rav Kook Met Moshe Dayan About Yeshivas and IDF

Over forty five years ago, two important meetings took place on the status of yeshivas in Israel.
Published: Monday, February 17, 2014 2:30 PM



What Ben Gurion and Dayan understood was, that even when the needs were much greater than they are now, one cannot draft by force.
The late Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, recognized as the leader and spiritual head of religious Zionism of his time, was a revered Torah Sage and head of the flagship Merkaz Harav Yeshiva named for his father, Israel's first chief rabbi, Rabbi Avraham Yitschak Hacohen Kook.

Ravi Tzvi Yehuda is often called "the father of the settlement movement" and his love for the land of Israel and its people knew no bounds.

One of the most illuminating of his writings describes two meetings of well known yeshiva heads with the leaders of Israel's government. (see Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda's Talks, Army and Yeshiva). 

The first took place in 1948 with Israel's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, shortly after the state was declared. There were hareidi yeshiva deans at the meeting who cried, pleading "don't touch our children". There were those who gave long lectures about the Torah's value in guarding the Jewish nation.

Both are strongly criticized by Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda in his article on the meetings: the wailers, for their "us against them" attitude, as if the government of Israel is in the category of the Tsarist police who kidnapped young Jewish children (cantonists) and kept them away from family and religion until they forgot both; the lecturing rabbis for saying things that it is a mitzvah to leave unsaid - and we can only imagine what that was. At that meeting, the venerable Zionist yeshiva dean wisely stayed silent, knowing that the others didn't want to hear his dissenting opinion and also because they left him no time to make his voice heard in a significant manner.

The second meeting took place after the 1967 Six Day War and was attended by Ministers Moshe Dayan, Chaim Moshe Shapira, Moshe Kol and Yossef Sapir. Dayan began the meeting by saying "We have come to examine the issue of freeing yeshiva students from enlistment when others are being killed in battle."

At this meeting, the hareidi Torah Sage Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky talked about how the Torah protects the people of Israel and asked then Minister Dayan to refrain from drafting yeshiva students.

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda, who was the dominant rabbinic  figure at this meeting, defined the source of the problem by stating that the basic concept has to change. He declared that it is not "them and us" but "the servants of Hashem, His people Israel".  He continued: "This is also the definition of yeshiva in the state of Israel – the yeshivas are part of our national being and ethos. The yeshivas are not just a place of study, but the place where Israel's spiritual culture is created. Men of vision and spirit, geniuses and righteous men are products of the yeshiva world. The yeshivas are necessary for the nation's existence, and there is no need to beg for their continuation"– (writer's note: this was his the way to explain that Torah guards and saves the Jewish people) – adding that these are words that "describe a nationalist-Torah point of view as opposed to an isolationist one".

Rabbi Kook's opening position had as its source his self-confident Torah leadership that did not bow its head before anyone. His style of oratory showed that he saw the yeshiva heads as equal in status to government ministers, even to Moshe Dayan, the charismatic general lauded for the glorious victory of the Six Day War.

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda took care to call Dayan the "Minister of Military Defense", in order to stress that the army is only one part of Israel's defense, with the other significant part being the study of Torah under the command of the yeshiva heads.

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda explained that it is imperative that everyone feel part of the Jewish national endeavor, but that this feeling is lacking among secular public as well as among  hareidi yeshiva heads. He added that there is no halakhic justification for absolving  yeshiva students from service – "we are not absolving and not freeing them… the forms always say 'deferment'.. we talk about a 'problem', but I have no problem. The issue is clear and straightforward: the state and the army belong to everyone. In some yeshivas this has still to be understood, but in time the idea will take root there as well."

Among the various points he made was one that posited that it is harder to make the righteous see their failings and change course, but that in the end, that too will happen. Yeshiva heads will become more and more Israeli and be part of the national effort.

However, he stressed, force and wholesale enlistment will delay this development. There is no way to enlist all the yeshiva students, just as there is no way to give them all deferments. There has to be a spiritually motivated  and thoroughly carried out investigation of each and every one, which can be accomplished if there is real cooperation between the army and the yeshivas. The hareidi sector claims over and over that studying Torah protects the Jewish people – and that means that they are learning not because they don't care about the security situation, but because they want to contribute to it.

Today, just as then, one cannot use coercion to solve a problem with spiritual aspects that has been allowed to continue for so many years in Israeli society. What Ben Gurion and Dayan understood was, that even when the needs were much greater than they are now, one cannot draft by force. This is something that some of us are not willing to understand today.

Some of those pushing for  force are motivated by their desire for political advancement or by their aversion to hareidim. As far as that is concerned, people have responded by pointing out the rock stars who avoid the draft and youth because they mimic their idols, but claim it is because they are "unsuited" or "conscientious objectors" – draft them first and then turn to the yeshiva students.

Hurling insults back and forth will not heal a longterm rift.  There has to be an oft-repeated  expectation -  with no personal gain for those expressing it – that all join in bearing the security burden. The Torani-nationalist sector has proven that army service does not get in the way of Torah study advancement. In many cases, the opposite is true and service enhances it. In addition to its value in unifying the nation, serving in the IDF is a mitzvah. The demand must be made politely and it must have practical suggestions for carrying it out.

There have to be hareidi frameworks available to prevent army service from threatening a soldier's religious level .  The Nahal Hareidi and other programs are growing by leaps and bounds, but a lack of patience for this social-spiritual process will destroy what has been built with much toil and fail to leave a more permanent edifice in its place.

When things are settled by agreement, and some of the students join different units, the result will be that the yeshivas will be on a much higher level than before, because only those who really want to continue learning will be there.  This will bring those who don't want to learn to leave and stop wandering around disturbing and chatting with those who do.

This will benefit both Israel's society and its economy, because a good number of the ex-soldiers will begin to create jobs. It will also, and most importantly, be a force for long and much-needed unity.

This article was translated from Arutz Sheva Hebrew site. Edited and translated by Rochel Sylvetsky