HaRav Tzvi Yehuda Kook zts"l
HaRav Tzvi Yehuda Kook zts"lKalman Weis z"l collection

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda, the only son of Rabbi Avraham HaCohen Kook, Israel's first Chief Rabbi, was one of the most prominent figures in the history of Relgious Zionism and served as dean of the flagship yeshiva of Religious Zionism, Jerusalem's Mercaz HaRav. . His efforts aimed to pave the way for his father’s philosophy and Torah in the world, to introduce the uniqueness of the elder Rabbi Kook’s teachings to the general public and the yeshiva student. After Rabbi Kook’s passing on the third of Elul, 1935, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda shut himself away for almost twenty years, in order to edit his father’s various writings Emunah and Halakha.

From1952, the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva became a prominent voice in the eyes of Israeli public in general and in the religious Zionist community in particular and Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda was the Rosh Yeshiva of that generation of leaders and rabbanim of Religious Zionist Judaism until his passing on Shushan Purim, 1982.

His words on IDF service are from the English version of his thoughts, the book “Torat Eretz Yisrael” by HaRav David Samson, HaRav Shlomo Aviner, and Tzvi Fishman:

To the extent that there is a need for yeshiva students to fight in a war, the same obligation rests on them as on everyone else. Within this general understanding there is room to make a truthful assessment of how essential their participation is. The Gemara in Megilla (3A) and Rashi explain that if there is not a situation of immediate combat there is no permission to neglect Torah learning. To the extent that the situation demands, a yeshiva student has to enlist. But with this, an intelligent weighing and judgment is required and a deferral can be granted since Torah learning has a spiritual importance which is also needed. However, this does not nullify the necessity of military service.

“The people who stand at the head of the army are trustworthy and ethical and they judge the situation. If they would come to the yeshiva with a specific, individualized demand that they need such and such students immediately, then there isn’t a choice. It is an obligation to go. But until a personal request is made, one must make a judgment on each individual student to determine just how essential his immediate participation is. These calculations are extremely precise. There are sone situations where enlistment is not one-hundred-percent necessary.

The leaders of the military are responsible men and if, to a limited extent, they not to pressure students whose occupation is learning Torah, one can believe them and trust their judgment.

The decision belongs to the Minister of Defense. He is the expert in military matters and war. If he maintains that yeshiva students who make Torah their profession are not essential to the army today, so it be. Thus there is an option to postpone one’s military obligation. This is not an exemption, nor a dodging of responsibility – only a postponement. It is recorded on the waivers we sign that the student is deferred not exempted.

In truth, there are some yeshivot which are opposed to the State in principle. This is not the case with us, G-d forbid. First, a student has to learn several years in yeshiva to deepen his Torah knowledge and fear of Heaven, and afterward he can go into the army. This is not a general program but an individual determination according to each student’s personal situation.

There are two mitzvot here: the precept to learn Torah and the precept to defend the Nation. Each individual must examine how far he can progress in Torah and decide in accordance with that. Obviously, one’s ambition should be to grow in Torah knowledge and become a Talmid Chacham. An abundance of Torah scholars is of critical importance to our Nation today.

“The claim that deferments for yeshiva students open a door to the avoidance of military service completely is not justified. We are not speaking about those who deceitfully dodge military service, but about men whose Torah learning is their occupation and who can contribute important spiritual and cultural strength to the Nation.

Everyone in our yeshiva (Merkaz Harav, ed.) participates in the army. They are either after their military service, before the army, or serving in the army now.

Regarding those who maintain that yeshiva deferments are a Chillul Hashem in the eyes of non-religious people, one must explain to them with great persuasiveness and vigor the value of building numerous Talmidei Chachamim who are filled with Torah on behalf of the Nation. The truth is the opposite of what these people say – the neglect of Torah learning is a desecration of Hashem. The sanctification of Hashem comes with the magnification of Torah.

Valor is required to explain to the secular community how vital it is that there be men of true Jewish culture in Israel. From a strengthening of Torah learning the power of explanation will be found. Thank G-d, there are pleasant and positive relations between the yeshiva and the army. From the beginning of the State until today the leaders of the government understood that there is a need for Torah in the Nation and in the Land of Israel. They made the decision that the army would not fall apart without yeshiva students.

The understandings between the army and the yeshiva are established in straightforward truthfulness and, bezrat Hashem, this will not change.

Here we have two great commandments. Military people are indispensable to the Nation and people filled with Torah are no less vital. However, extremism isn’t called for. Heaven forbid that every yeshiva student go into the army! And Heaven forbid that none of them go!

HaRav Tannenbaum, the righteous Secretary of the Council of Yeshivot in Israel, told me in the name of the Gaon Rabbi Issar Zalman Meltzer, of blessed memory, that there is no Halakhic source to exempt a yeshiva student from the army, and that the reliance on the Rambam at the end of the Laws of Shmitta and Yovel (13: 12-13) is falsehood in the name of Torah. On the other hand, it is impossible to close every yeshiva and to send every student to war. This is not a small detail of Halakha – this is an issue affecting Clal Yisrael. The heads of yeshivot are obligated to stand guard over the growth of Torah in Israel.

And with that, there is no contradiction between the yeshiva and the army. On the contrary, there is harmony in the recognition and appreciation of one for the other. Yeshivot are obligated to stress the importance of the army to their students. Extremism has no justification and we must look upon these matters in all of their wholeness.

(From the book “Torat Eretz Yisrael” by HaRav David Samson, HaRav Shlomo Aviner, and Tzvi Fishman)