MIshpatim: Coercion and the IDF

The Jews were coerced into accepting the Torah, according to our sages, but there is a difference.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch

And to Moses, He said: ‘Ascend (the mountain) up to the Lord’… and Moses built an altar under the mountain” (Exodus 24; 1, 4).

Rashi: This was said before the giving of the Ten Commandments.

And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet the Lord; and they stood under the mountain. And the whole of Mount Sinai was smoking, because the Lord had descended on it in fire; the smoke ascended like that of a lime-kiln, and the entire mountain shook violently” (Exodus 19; 17-18)

“‘They stood under the mountain’. Rav Avdimi bar Chama bar Chasa said: This teaches that כפה עליהם הר כגיגיתthe Lord covered (kafa, as in the word ‘kipa’,skullcap) them with the mountain as though it were a hollow vat turned upside down. And He said: If you accept the Torah, well and good ; but if you do not, here is your grave” (Talmud Shabbat 88a).

The issue of coercion, as in “religious coercion (kfiya datit)” and compulsory Army/IDF service, is always in the news, and is now quite the rage. Far from forcing anyone to put on a kippa, skullcap, the main thrust today is coming from the other direction, to force our hareidi citizens to do Army service.

It’s time, again, to see what Rav A.Y. Kook, our first Chief Rabbi, and father of the knit kippa- bearers, had to say about this issue of 'Kfiya Datit', recligious coercion, starting with the first instance, at Sinai:

“We did not exactly accept the Torah entirely (see Exodus 24; 3, 7) of our own free will. There was the mountain placed over our heads – a Divine historical necessity, which was the driving force of the Revelation at Sinai. This Divine Plan of History stands far above our human will, understanding and agreement. Thus there is no possibility to stop this developing process, which the Lord inscribed into the nature of Life itself. You could no more stop the normal development of a baby into a toddler, then to a child, then to a teenager, and then to an adult, than you could try to leave Israel at its pre-Sinai level, when it was time for a new, higher level to appear.

"We puny humans only see the outer wrappings of historical events. The Lord, however, pushes along the forces of history according to their true underlying principles. The Ultimate Wisdom ( G-d) knows that we are weak, our will is weak, and our ideals are weak. אין אנו ראויים כלל וכלל שקיומו של עולם מלא ימסר לרצוננו – we humans are in no way fit to have the survival of the Universe depend entirely on our puny will.

"Thus, it is via הכרחים פנימיים והכרחים חיצוניים , internal and external givens and compulsions, that we were called to accept the Torah at Sinai, and via which we are now called to accept the Torah at this beginning of our modern national Reawakening( תחית הפלאות, a miracle rebirth." (Ma’amarei Ha’RIyah, Har KGigit, page 166;as explained by Rav Tzvi Tau, Emunat Iteinu vol. 8 , pages 178-180).

Rav Tau explains these “compulsions”:

The external ones are the wars, the terror attacks, the political attacks, the libels, the boycotts, the economic difficulties, and the sociological upheavals that this nation has undergone in the last decades.

The inner compulsions are the givens of Life: our national DNA, as children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; as well as all of our subsequent history, which bequeathed to us the character traits of every nation through which we wandered for the last 3300 years.

We can no more go backwards in our development, nor “change our spots”, as a leopard could change its DNA. It makes as much sense to go into a national depression over the issue of our “givens”, as it makes for modern man to need Prozac because of his mourning over the fact that he’s not been given the DNA of an Einstein, the character of a Churchill, or the wealth of a Rockefeller.

That is the Har K’Gigit, the mountain of givens that hovers over our heads. Man’s job is to make of those givens, what he can.

We reenact this scene every Shabbat, when we return the Torah to its Ark: “Kol Hashem baKoach” , the voice of the Lord is in Power, the voice of the Lord is in Majesty!( Psalms 29, 4).

Rav Kook: “And as in days of yore, this Koach Hamachriach, this compulsory Power, will manifest itself as the force that drives us to a תחית אמת, a true national reawakening. Via a life of Kfiyat Har K’Gigit, the coercion of the Mount, we will again accept the word of the Lord as the law of Life, and as our national code of justice in our Holy Land, so that all Israel return and live, to be, in front of the eyes of all this world, what we מוכרחים להיות, what we must be, will be, and are compelled (by the word of the Lord) to be- the great, holy nation in its holy Land, living according to its holy Torah, כימי עולם וכשנים קדמוניות."

It is clear, however, from Rabbis Kook and Tau that the only coercion that can be successful is that done by G-d himself.

No man can force Yair Lapid to wear a kipa and go learn in a Yeshiva; similarly, coercing hareidim to join the IDF is sure to fail. If they don’t see Army duty as a “Mitzva”, a religious obligation as a Jew, they simply will not go.

In fact, they see it as a danger to personal religiosity, quoting figures (whether true or not) that 20% of religious Israelis leave their observance level n in the Army. For sure, anyone so religiously weak that he would leave normative Judaism because of the Army, shouldn’t go; however, frameworks like Nachal Hareidi have shown that hareidim who serve there do not leave their religious observance behind.

Of course, it would be a terrible waste for a Reb Moshe Feinstein or R. S. Z. Auerbach to be spending three years in a tank or F-16, but how many of those are there? Such individuals should be identified and exempted. The rest have to be proven that just as they stop learning to daven(pray) and to do other mitzvoth, they must stop learning for the mitzvah of protecting their people in IDF service.

Kfiya ( coercion) however, is not the way to go about reeducating a half-million strong sector of society who have been allowed, for decades, the luxury of living outside our society’s life, with its responsibilities. Hopefully, this nation will act responsibly, as the Lord directs his plan from Above.