Judaism: Explaining Hesder - To Ourselves
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedThe writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish...
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
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.
Why Yeshiva Students Vacations are Long
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).
Convincing the Religious Community
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.
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.
Are the Hesder Yeshivas at Risk?
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.
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?
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 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?
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.
The Second Mistake
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.
The ‘Civil Union’ Law
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.
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.