Dr. Chaim Charles CohenThe writer, whose PhD. is from Hebrew U., is a social worker and teacher at the Hebrew Univ. School of Social Work, and Efrata College.
Building a Torah social culture means creating family, community, work and recreational patterns of living that encourage us to experience G-d in all aspects of or daily life.
Does the new draft law, obligating army or national service for the ultra-orthodox, help build such a Torah social culture? Is it, proverbially, good for the Jews? Good for the national religious community? For the ultra-orthodox community?
Yes it is good for the Jews. The new draft law gives further impetus for Torah-concerned Jews to take the secular institution of the army and enhance the army's intrinsic holiness (as the protector of the Jews settling and developing the Land of Israel), with dimensions of Torah content. For example, the new draft law will increase the number of soldiers who are openly observant of the halakha, which in turn will raise the legitimacy and the level of Torah observance in the army. In order to accommodate ultra-orthodox soldiers there will be a more strict observance of kashrut, and greater legitimacy and leeway will be granted to regular prayer and Torah study as is currently the case with the Nachal Charedi. This accommodation of the ultra-orthodox will encourage national religious soldiers in regular combat units to feel more comfortable and confident to demand a level of Torah observance that exists now only in hesder units.
The impact of an ultra orthodox presence in the army will be a two way street. Ultra orthodox soldiers will be influence, and not just influencing. Their army service will help them become more aware and sensitive to the nationalistic, historical elements of torah observance in a Jewish army in a Jewish state, either directly through greater interaction with secular and national religious soldiers and commanders, or indirectly by simply trying positively understand and justify to themselves their army service.
The new draft law thus acts to create a critical mass of soldiers practicing a serious level of Torah observance, and possessing a spiritual and nationalistic value understanding of their army service. This critical social cultural mass will coalesce and bring forth a stable, dynamic alternative army sub culture that will actualize G-d's presence and Torah awareness into every day army service.
This evolution of an army Torah subculture can serve as a paradigm for understanding the principles creating a Torah social culture in other sectors of our life. First, the development of an army Torah subculture demonstrates the possibility of actualizing a relationship with G-d outside our home, synagogue or beit midrash. An army Torah subculture, a fusion of Torah observance, learning and a sense of fulfilling an historical, nationalistic spiritual mission, can make it more feasible for the religious to actually experience on a daily basis, the "G-d is walking" in the military camp of Israel.
Second, the development of an army Torah subculture demonstrates how we can and must learn from secular culture in order to create a new Torah cultural entity. An army Torah subculture will include and be built on the military science and heritage of heroes of self sacrifice of the underground, Haganah and IDF, but learn it according to the more ultimate truth of the three thousand covenantal bond of G-d, the people of Israel, and the Land of Israel. A parallel example would be building Torah based psychology by learning the understandings of Freud, and academic knowledge of modern psychology, but interpreting them according them to the ultimate truth that we are composed of physical body and eternal spiritual soul. Our aim is to create a Torah social culture applicable to many sectors of society that will supplement, coexist, and dialogue with the surrounding, dominant liberal secular social culture.
Thus developing an army Torah sub culture means to be simultaneously together and apart, integrated and segregated, in general Israeli society. We accept full responsibility, and participation, in the welfare of general Jewish/Israel society. We want to be the best soldiers possible, but, without feeling any guilt, we want to live a more private, distinct social life in the army, in accord with the prescribed and inspired life experiences of the Torah. There can be comradeship in arms without eating the same food, reading the same books, or singing the same songs. It is possible 'to have our cake and eat it too': to be a proud Israeli-Jewish soldier, but to do my army service with a Torah perspective on life.
The new draft law has empowered the Torah community. It helps bring the ultra Orthodox community into general Israeli society. Torah and Sabbath observant Jews will soon be thirty per cent of the Israeli Jewish population. By building a Torah social culture we help Israeli society 'become more Jewish'