The <i>Mitzvah</i> of Army Service

Although my desire to move to Israel will come as no surprise to anyone, my excitement at serving in the army certainly does. Some people over here in Winnipeg, Canada, are under the impression that the Israeli army is foreign to orthodox Jews. Make no mistake, my interest in serving in the IDF has nothing to do with any political views I may hold, but rather as a fulfillment of Torah law. To this

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin,

Judaism Rabbi Ari Enkin
Rabbi Ari Enkin
צילום:
I'm finally doing it. I'm making Aliyah. I'm leaving the self-imposed exile and returning home. Along with the mitzvah of making Aliyah comes the mitzvah and obligation of serving in the Israel Defense Forces.

Although my desire to move to Israel will come as no surprise to anyone, my excitement at serving in the army certainly does. Some people over here in Winnipeg, Canada, are under the impression that the Israeli army is foreign to orthodox Jews. Make no mistake, my interest in serving in the IDF has nothing to do with any political views I may hold, but rather as a fulfillment of Torah law. To this end, I'd like to explore some of the Halachic issues of serving in the IDF.

Throughout all of Tanach (Scripture) (Rashi to Numbers 31:3) we find that only religious and observant individuals were permitted to serve in the Jewish army. Anyone found to be in poor Halachic practice was expelled from the forces. Indeed, even the greatest of our forefathers were intrepid soldiers, as the Talmud says: "Our forefathers were gentle when it came to ritual, but tough when it came to war." (Moed Katan 16b; e.g., Avraham, David, Moses, Joshua, etc.) Gideon, especially, had no patience for soldiers who did not meet the piety bar (Judges 7). Additionally, we find that one of the characteristics of the Messiah will be that he is proficient and triumphant in battle (Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 11).

Even the most sanctified of tribes ? the Kohanim ? were permitted to forgo the severe prohibition of being in the presence of a dead body in order to fight in the Jewish army (Kiddushin 21b). The prophetess Devorah gave special praise to the religious soldiers who helped in defeating the Canaanites (Judges 5:14, Radak).

The Hesder yeshiva movement in Israel is a wonderful example of the above, whereby yeshiva students combine their studies concurrently with their military obligations. It is interesting to note that the Hesder program may have actually been conceptualized by our forefather Avraham (see Rashi to Genesis 14:14). It was re-instated into regular use in 1954 by the late Rosh Yeshiva of the Kerem B'yavneh Yeshiva, Rabbi Chaim Yakov Goldvicht, z.t.l.

It is interesting to note that the non-Zionist (but very pro-Israel) Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, referred to all who serve in the army as "tzdaddikim", completely righteous Jews (see http://amerisrael.com/article_rebbe.html).

On a contemporary note, the war against terrorism that Israel faces today is known in Halacha as a "milchemet mitzvah", an obligatory battle (see Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 5:1). In such a situation, we are taught that all Jews are obligated to serve in the army, even a bride and groom on their wedding day (Sotah 43).

It emerges from the above discussion that serving in the army is not only permissible, but is actually a mitzvah of the Torah (see Numbers 33:52; it is in the parsha that deals with Aliyah).

Sure, there are certainly opposing and equally legitimate views on the issue of orthodox Jews serving in the Israeli army; however, based on the discussion above, perhaps orthodox authorities should debate an alternative question, namely: Is it Halachically permissible for non-orthodox Jews to serve in the Israeli army?

I would suggest that the ideal solution would be for every yeshiva student to join the army and every soldier to join a yeshiva!

[The foregoing was inspired and adapted from an outstanding chapter in Gray Matter - V'zot L'Yehuda: Discourses in Contemporary Halacha, by Rabbi Chaim Jachter and Ezra Frazer (Soncino, 2000).]




top