Judaism: Explaining Hesder - To Ourselves

Torah issues made clear from the Rav of Har Bracha, the thriving yeshiva community in the Shomron.
Published: Sunday, March 02, 2014 4:35 PM


Hesder Yeshivas

I received a number of comments following my column on Hesder yeshivas, and since the issue continues to be on the public agenda, I think it is deserves a further look.

The Claim of Equality

Q: Rabbi, do you really believe there is no preferential treatment in the Hesder track, just because anyone who wants to can join? After all, if everyone were to serve in the Hesder track, the IDF. would be short of soldiers.

A: I believe that if everyone served in the Hesder track, the quality of the soldiers in the IDF would increase tremendously, and the benefits derived from their shortened military service would surpass current gains. This, thanks to the charge of values they would receive in the yeshivas, which would also make it easier for the army to recruit soldiers necessary for permanent service from within their ranks.

And above and beyond this, when we are fortunate enough to have everyone learning in Hesder yeshivas, the State of Israel will flourish in all areas, because the yeshiva graduates imbued with these values will work to advance education, academia, industry, the economy, settlement and aliyah – and in addition, raise fine families. May we merit seeing the learning halls of Hesder yeshivas filled to overflowing capacity in the near future!

Why Yeshiva Students Vacations are Long

Q: If the Hesder yeshiva students are as beneficial to Israel as you say, and what’s more, serve five years instead of three, why is it that while combat soldiers get two weeks’ vacation a year, yeshiva students get a break three times a year for “bein ha z’manim”, three weeks at a time?

A: Every field has its own character. Study is more mentally tiring than physical labor, and the vast majority of people are not capable of learning continuously for an entire year. The fact is that in all universities, vacations are much longer – roughly four to five months a year. Even the most diligent academic students take longer vacations than yeshiva students (incidentally, the holidays of Passover and Sukkot are not periods of “vacation”, but rather appointed times, half of which should be spent learning Torah). 

In my estimation, the yearly number of study hours of Hesder yeshiva students corresponds to the number of hours studied by the twenty percent of the diligent students who study challenging subjects in universities (I am able to make this estimation because for fifteen years our yeshiva, Yeshiva Har Bracha, has run a continuation program – ‘Shiluvim’, which combines academic studies with yeshiva studies).

Convincing the Religious Community

Q: Rabbi, you wrote nice things about the importance of the Zionist yeshivas in general, and about the Hesder yeshivas in particular, but the problem is you wrote them in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper for the religious public who at any rate, are already convinced. You need to convince the secular public that attacks the Hesder yeshiva students.

A: Although it is important to explain Torah and values to the secular public, it is more important to explain it to the religious community, because it is an issue composed of a number of values that requires finding an optimal way of integrating them – for the glory of the Torah, the nation, and the country. This integration should also be tailored to each individual: many young men are fit for the Hesder track, some for Mechinot (pre-military preparatory programs) followed by service in the regular army, and for others, studies in a yeshiva gevo’ah (higher Torah academy), followed by a shorter military service.

All of them are beneficial to Israeli society. Those learning in the yeshivot gevo’ot help fortify the importance of Torah in Israel – also for the soldiers serving in the regular and standing army; those serving in the army help the yeshiva students connect their studies to the practical world and the security of the nation; and the central axis which beautifully combines both these values – Torah study and army service – is accomplished by the students of theHesder yeshivas. Together, they all benefit Israeli society – the hareidi and secular alike.

The more the students of the Zionist yeshivas and Mechinot increase their understanding of the great task that lies before them and how to realize it most effectively, their welcome influence on all of Israeli society will also increase, and the hareidi and secular Jews will do teshuva (repent) – each one in their required area.

I will continue and reveal that in essence, I am writing for myself. And when I manage to express things frankly, I am filled with satisfaction. Consequently, I know there’s a chance that others will enjoy what I have written, and derive benefit from it. And as the ba’alei mussar have already pointed out, the most important thing is for a person to correct himself, for if he succeeds, his words will benefit numerous people.

Are the Hesder Yeshivas at Risk?

Q: In recent days, the secular public was exposed to severe and daily attacks on the Hesder yeshivas, including a demand that their students serve three full years in the army. Shouldn’t we compromise and extend the service to two years, and thereby save the Hesder yeshivas?

A: There is no risk to the Hesder yeshiva track in the foreseeable future. The law is almost completed, and the coalition will pass it. Moreover, as long as the hareidi public is entitled to a larger exemption for yeshiva students, both in the number of young men who receive a full exemption from military service, and also in the number of those receiving conditions for deferred and shortened service, it is impossible to discriminate against the Zionist community and withhold from it from the possibility of learning in yeshivas under conditions that are far better and useful to the IDF. However, in the long-term there is cause for concern, or in other words – the necessity to internalize the value, for all of Israel, the special combination of Torah and military service in Hesder yeshivas in their present format.

How to Convince

Q: Is it possible to continue the Hesder yeshiva track while the secular media keeps attacking it? Aren’t we obligated now to try and persuade the secular public about the importance of the track – for if not, its continued existence will be at risk?

A: The exaggerated desire of the religious communities’ representatives to receive approval and agreement from other factors is one of the most difficult problems. The ability to explain a fundamental idea depends on identifying with its importance, and self-assurance in its truth and benefit for the sake of society.

Incidentally, this problem caused many leaders of the national camp to accept the delusional, dangerous, and evil position of “two states for two peoples”. In their youth they sang songs about “shtei gadot la’Yarden” (“two banks to the Jordan”, a poem written by Jabotinsky), and believed that all of Eretz Yisrael belonged to the Jewish nation. They dreamed of gaining power, explaining to everyone the absolute truth, and realizing the vision. All they needed was to be appointed as senior ministers, head off immediately to foreign countries, meet the delegates of the great nation’s face-to-face, talk with them honestly, and convince them.

Excitedly, they set forth on international advocacy campaigns to explain the validity of our path… and surprise! It turned out that the delegates of the nations had their own interests, and all the great speeches didn’t affect them. Naturally, of course, the Israeli politicians were left with no other choice but to capitulate. Just ask Ehud Olmert and Tzippy Livni.

The Mistake in PR

The mistake of the majority of those who spoke on the issue of Hesder yeshivas was that they tried to depict the quality of their combat service in order to get sympathy and approval for their shortened army service. But it’s hard to explain to a secular person that it’s preferable for Hesder soldiers to serve less because of their military excellence. If the soldiers are so good, why shouldn’t they contribute more?

We must accept the fact that secular people do not appreciate yeshiva study as we wish they would. If they did, they would do teshuva. Attempting to convince them about this is doomed to failure. We should have explained our position without trying to convince, describing the entire picture – the enormous contribution of the religious community to all of Israeli society, in all fields – including the army – and calmly explain that all of this stems from the study of Torah in yeshivas. Some would understand more, other’s less.

In any case, it should have been firmly clarified that in as much as our national responsibility requires, we have no intention of changing the Hesder track – one of the most beneficial tracks for the Jewish nation – but will try our best to expand it as much as possible.

It was also wrong to agree to add a month to the service, because amid these pressures, it was perceived as a slight admission of fault, requiring the guilty party to prove his claim.

The Second Mistake

One also cannot ignore the deep-seated motivation of the media’s attacks on the Hesder yeshivas, whose graduates are the leaders of the position supporting the settlement of Judea and Samaria, and live in all the communities located there in large numbers. Unfortunately, there are people in the country – especially in the media – for whom these things are anathema. They will do anything to harm anyone expressing this position.

We must recognize reality – this is the main motive for the resentment and attacks on the Hesder yeshivas. It is no coincidence that all the attackers of the Hesder yeshivas – without exception – are people who support giving portions of our homeland to the Arabs. They also fear that yeshiva graduates will refuse orders to expel Jews from their homes.

Some people try to play down the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, settling the land, and distance the Hesder yeshivas and the religious community from this controversial position. But instead of avoiding it, we must reveal the motive for the attacks, and thus, as supporters of Hesder, gain the support of all the Jews who are loyal to Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael who are not observant.

The ‘Civil Union’ Law

Just as Minister Tzippy Livni and her Knesset faction attack precisely the Hesder yeshiva students, and strive to establish a state for the Arabs in heart of the Land of Israel, they also want to promote the ‘civil union’ law, whose main gist is damaging the sacred status of marriage in Israel.

In a previous article I wrote that if the status of Jewish marriage was strengthened through means of a Basic Law, there would be room for granting complete financial rights to anyone wishing to maintain a joint partnership. However, this is on the condition that it is not an institution with official status, similar to state-governed marriage, but rather within a framework whose essential feature is free will – the free will of two people to define their partnership, and their free will to dismantle it at any time, without the need of approval from any particular system. The existing pool of lawyers would suffice the facilitation of all the necessary agreements. 

The ‘civil union’ law does the exact opposite. It organizes an entire civilian system parallel to the traditional Jewish marriage system. Instead of granting free will, it creates a system that is meant to compete with the rabbinate and the batei din (courts of Jewish law).

Apart from damaging the status of sacred Jewish marriage, it is also likely to cause devastating damage to all those who “marry” according to it. Since it is a marriage-like system, according to the opinion of many poskim (Jewish law arbiters) it will be considered as marriage, which in order to annul, requires a get. And since the system they intend to establish will not require a get according to halakha, the number of women considered safek eshet ish (a women doubtfully married) will increase, and their children will be safek mamzerim (a child born out of a doubtful forbidden marriage). The destruction they wish to inflict on Eretz Yisrael, they also wish to inflict on family values.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.