The Syrian leader, Antiochus, sent his general, Apollonius, together with a large army to Jerusalem in the year 167 B.C.E. He did so after trying to force the Jews to assimilate by appointing Hellenized Jews such as Menelaus to leadership posts.
The Jews of Jerusalem fought against these Jewish traitors with success so Antiochus sent his own army to take care of the Jewish problem. Soon enough, his forces began to massacre the Jews and decrees of death were declared for essentially all displays of Jewish behavior.
Who would we expect to rise up against this strong and vicious army which had spread its terror to the suburbs of Jerusalem, as well? Based on our modern world we would have to imagine the following scenario: The more religious Jews would focus on Torah study and prayer out of a belief that this, and only this, would lead God to bring about a salvation, while those who were not interested in Torah study or perhaps less religiously committed, would organize themselves and fight the war. We can certainly imagine the religious leadership saying, "The soldiers should go out and fight and we will support them and even guarantee their victory through our spiritual pursuits." The Kohanim, religious priests who are not permitted to become impure through contact with a dead body, would certainly proclaim, "We cannot go to war because of the Torah prohibitions against our becoming spiritually contaminated."
But, that is not what actually occurred. A family of religious priests left their world of Torah study and sacrificial offerings to fight the Syrian-Greek soldiers. Matityahu called out "Whoever is for God let him come to me!" and, together with his five sons he managed to rally an army of 6,000 people who conducted successful guerilla warfare against a mighty army.
A religious leader calling, "Whoever is for God follow me to war?" What about studying Torah? What about the prohibition of becoming impure? Shouldn't Matityahu have called out, "Whoever is for God come to the yeshiva to study?" If a Matityahu were to arise today and call followers of God to war would he not be branded a "heretic," a "breacher of the fences of holiness," and, worst of all, God forbid, a "Zionist?"
The answer is crystal clear. Many in the current day Hareidi leadership would react that way and it is they who are modern and reformers and it is they who have strayed from Torah tradition. Throughout our glorious history, true Torah leaders have understood that there are times when we must go out and fight our enemies. Sincere spiritual greats had the wisdom to see the sanctification of God's name which comes through defeating those who seek to destroy His people.
For thousands of years, those who read the Torah without bias or hidden agendas read that when the Jews were trapped between the approaching Egyptian army and the Sea of Reeds and cried out to God for salvation, God replied, "Why are you crying out to Me? Go and do something about it." And it is because of spiritual giants like the Maccabees, with their clarity regarding the will of God, that the Jews were saved from the tyranny of the Syrian-Greek forces, and from persecution in other eras.
The concept of proper training and preparedness for war is so important in Torah thought that Maimonides, one of the greatest Jewish philosophers and experts on Jewish law, actually blames our banishment into exile on our not training properly for war. He wrote the following words in a letter to the Jews of Marseilles: "This is the reason why we lost our kingdom, our Temple was destroyed, and our exile has been so long…because they followed after astrologers…and did not involve themselves in studying about war and conquering lands…and, therefore, the prophets called them fools…"
Thank God we have returned to our homeland after 2,000 years of exile. We are in a constant state of battle against our enemies. We, as Haredim, cannot let the burden of fighting fall to our secular and religious Zionist brothers. Moses made this clear when he proclaimed, "Will your brothers go to war and you will sit here?" We have an absolute mitzvah to join in the fight. As the Maccabees demonstrated, while Torah study is of high-level importance in our tradition, saving lives supersedes most other commandments.
While a few select and elite scholars must always be designated to focus exclusively on Torah study, the rest of the nation, including Hareidim, must go to fight.
Many may question my suggestion that all Israelis serve based on religious grounds. After all, doesn't the army present religious challenges for the soldiers?
The answer to this question is very straightforward. It must first be stated that IDF officially observes Jewish law from its creation and this policy is part of its Supreme Command Code. Aside from this, the IDF has made adjustments in recent years which transformed serving into a completely appropriate experience for soldiers of all religious backgrounds.
Nachal Hareidi is a unit made up of religious soldiers with Torah classes and prayer services offered daily and many religious sensitivities are taken into account including the absence of women on the base. The Shachar program is offered to Hareidi men who have already learned Torah for four or more years after the age of 18. This program offers 26 different vocational training tracks including computer programming, electrical engineering, technical writing, and even truck driving. There are no women in their areas of the base, no female commanders, and they keep to the highest standard of kashrut. These soldiers are off for Shabbat, Friday, and all holidays.
So, the claim that any group cannot share in the national burden of army service because of religious concerns is a non-issue in our times. It should also be mentioned that the more Hareidim join the IDF, the more the IDF will adapt even further to meet the specific needs of that community.
As we light the candles and contemplate our miraculous victory over the Greeks, we must remind ourselves that God saved us when a group of righteous and spiritual men rallied around the cry of "Who is for God?" and let go of their holy spiritual activities to pursue the holiness of fighting to defend the honor of God, His land, and His people.
God fearing people must do the same in our times, as well