Fleeing the Draft - Thinking Torah

Fleeing the Draft

Two chareidi young men looking at the Kotel

The other day it was reported that former Chief Rabbi Rav Ovadia Yosef said that yeshiva students would be better off to leave Israel rather than be drafted into the IDF.

I waited to comment on this.

I was wondering if there would be any sort of clarification or retraction.

I haven’t seen any.

Before I start, let me put in all of the usual and expected qualifications:

I’m [blank] compared to [blank]. I have no business to speak after he has spoken.


However, I do have an opinion, so here goes.

Several things are clear to me.

1. No Harm

For most yeshiva students, serving a couple of years in the IDF will not harm them.

They are not going to become gedolim no matter how many hours a day they sit in yeshiva.

That is just a simple fact of life.

It’s been a fact since the time of the Gemara.

I showed this to a friend. He thought I was saying that only men who will become gedolim should learn in yeshiva.


Everyone who has the desire, ability, and resources to learn should do.

However, for many men that will mean that there will be some breaks in full time learning.

They may need to train for a career or they may need to serve their country.

After their service they should be welcomed back to the yeshiva, if that is what they want.

2. Abuse of the System

It’s clear that there is some abuse of the current system of draft deferments.

You just have to walk down the street in any hareidi section of Jerusalem during normal yeshiva hours to know this.

You will see numerous guys out on the street who are supposed to be in the beit midrash.

3. Serving Will Help

There are some guys currently in yeshiva who not only don’t belong there, they would be helped by serving in the IDF or national service.

Sitting learning all day is killing them spiritually.

These are guys who aren’t cut out for learning, but feel stuck.

They will make fine ba’alei batim, they just need to have that path made available to them.

Two chareidi young men looking at the Kotel

Two chareidi young men looking at the Kotel

4. Limited Draft

My understanding is that not all yeshiva students will be subject to the draft.

In other words, there will still be a certain number of exemptions.

This will give the yeshivot a chance to keep the top students in the beit midrash fulltime.

I’ve heard that the objection to this is basically, “We can’t tell who the top students are. It may not become obvious until a fellow is older.”

To this I say, “Baloney.”

Sure, there will be late bloomers. But is that really where the gedolim come from?

I think it’s clear to the administrators and teachers in yeshivot which 18-year-old students are showing real potential.

I would even propose this simple, but accurate test:

Dear Rosh Yeshiva:

Do you view student Y as a potential husband for your daughter or granddaughter?

If not, please tell him to report for assignment to an IDF unit.

Your Turn

That’s it. My two cents worth.

Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Picture by David Berkowitz.
  • Ze'ev says:

    In the previous generation, the gedolim in America were Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Feinstein, Rav Ruderman, Rav Hutner, Rav Aaron Kotler and Rav Kaminetsky (this was Rabbi Lerner’s list, at least). Of those six, at most two (the first two) had fathers who are still famous enough to consider the potential that they are gedolim by legacy. Nowadays, when people list gedolim, they tend to have the same last names as previous generation’s gedolim. I think this is bad for the Jewish world overall, preventing potential new gedolim whose parents did not happen to be gedolim.

    That said, the Talmud says that 1000 enter to study and one merits to be rosh yeshiva. There are some students who will be the best. However, these need not be the sons or sons-in-law of the rosh yeshiva. I agree with your point but disagree with your test.

    • shlomo says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      I agree that the next gadol will not necessarily be the son-in-law of a current rosh yeshiva.

      My test was meant to indicate that the leadership of a yeshiva does make judgements about their students and their abilities to succeed in learning.

  • Ruti Eastman says:

    Rabbi, I humbly agree with your assessment. I would like to add a thought, probably not supported in the Sources. 🙂 But I don’t pretend to be learned “inside.” I’m a mother, and I watch life closely.

    I am not in the business of choosing the gedolei hador. But I have a naive suspicion that even that lofty gadlut would not be derailed by service to one’s country, getting to know Jews of various stripes — wouldn’t that in fact help a gadol to lead them ALL? — and being forced (as my Torah-soldier-sons have been) to rise above the challenges, and become teachers among their soldier peers.

    If G-d has given a young man the gifts to lead a generation, working shoulder to shoulder with them and learning to love them will not deter him from his path.

    • shlomo says:

      Hi Ruti

      Thanks for adding your thoughts.

      What you suggest could be true. However, it will be a very rare person who achieves that.

      Most likely the highest level gedolim will not have left the beit midrash for significant periods of time.

      As for relating well with other Jews, serving together in the IDF or national service could and should foster that.

  • gedaliah says:

    I would also add that there are many positions open which fit those wanting to sit and learn. Such as emergency personnel who are on call like firemen and mda. In the us a firehouse is club med for men…well turn it into a bait midrash. Certainly rav avodia yoseph has no trouble with those seeking assistance in having a house fire extinguished…
    The is a sad statement by a great man. Like a broken clock is right twice a day clearly the opposite is true here.

    • shlomo says:

      Gedaliah –

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your comments.

      I agree that a person serving in the IDF will not necessarily have no options for learning. Certainly, when there are more hareidim in the IDF then the culture of the IDF will change to accommodate them. It won’t happen quickly, but it will happen.

      I’m not sure what to make of your last sentence.

      I did not mean to be disrespectful to Rav Ovadia. He sees the idea of yeshiva students being drafted as an attack on Torah. To a certain extent that is true.

      However, it seems that it is now inevitable that yeshiva students will be drafted. My point is that it’s not necessarily a bad thing for either the yeshiva world or the individual student.

      • Ruti Eastman says:

        I may have misread it, but I assumed that Gedaliah was agreeing with you. While he usually has full respect for Rav Ovadia’s opinions, this time he feels he is incorrect. (His “clock” is usually right, according to Gedaliah, but “twice a day” is incorrect, to turn the usual metaphor on its head.)

        Aren’t you glad I keep sticking my nose in over here? Back to preparing for the aufruf. 😀

  • Avi says:

    While I am not sure commenting on these types of posts will change anyones minds, I do think there is a need to present the other side, at least as I see it.

    point 1, it won’t do any harm. 18 year olds are incredibly vulnerable to their environment, they need to be in Yeshivos, not to become gedoli hador, but simply to remain frum. The army is a terrible nisayon for anyone who is not in either a charedi or hesder unit. Even if they are in a special unit, 18 year olds are still forming their personalities, and a yeshiva is a better place for them to do it by several orders of magnitude. If the army wanted 21 year olds, after having charedi youth sit and learn for 3 years that would be much less damaging to both the students and charedi culture in general. I am pretty sure there would be much less opposition if this option was pursued. We are not concerned with not producing gedolei hador,. we are concerned about not producing baal habatim.
    2, abuse of the system. At this point, everyone goes to yeshiva because the army will destroy them spiritually, so they stay in yeshiva, the university system is even worse than the army, so they get no education, and then they are not allowed to work, so they stay in yeshiva, working on the side, becoming essentially criminals and thieves.. The system is as bad as any that could have been imagined by the Russians or any other historically hostile society. There needs to be a college system, which is happening that allows charedim to be trained in professional fields, and they need to be allowed to go to work afterwards. yeshiva from 18 to 21, army from 21 to 23, college and kollel till 27 and then join the work force. the weaker ones could start their secular education at 18, with yeshiva, and then the army followed by work at 22 or 23. I think this system would be much more acceptable to everyone.
    3 Serving will not necessarily help, but allowing people not to have to choose between religion and honest work would certainly help.
    4, Limited draft. If you draft at 21 you will have a much easier time figuring out who the outstanding people are. 3 years of yeshiva gedolah will do that. 3 years of yeshiva ketana, which is where the kids are at 17-18 will not let you do that. At 21 you will have students families who will push to have their kids leave yeshiva because they are not succeeding, at 18 they know that their kids are not mature enough to keep the charedi lifestyle in a hostile environment.

    Thank you for listening.

    • shlomo says:

      Thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful reply.

      I think you raise many good points.

      What I posted was based on an assumption that the draft law is changing and that hareidi youth will now be serving in the IDF or in national service.

      I agree that those who serve will face many challenges.

      You raise an interesting point about delaying the draft until age 21. Have you heard that presented as a serious proposal by roshei yeshiva?


    • Hillel Levin says:

      Like Rav Shlomo, I too was challenged to read that Rav Ovadia says that yerida is preferred to Service.

      Avi, I struggle with your reasoning for option 1) Going Chutz L’Aretz is throwing these same boys who you say don’t yet have their Jewish navigational system set into a much larger pit of temptation.

      Frankly I think that rather than run away from the issue, the leaders of the leaders should be exploring options like a Charedi Hesdar system. This would allow these young men a longer time in learning and still fulfill the Service requirement.

      It would also give the IDF brass breathing room, since they have stated that they are not in a position to absorb 19,500 charedi youth. They have neither the infrastructure, bases or even the induction staffing to cater to the needs of these young men.

      Also Sherut Leumi could provide some options and not only would that allow a few hours of learning at night, but it is possible that part of their service could actually be learning Torah, say with a holocaust survivor or an at-risk teen or in a school setting. There is also a tremendous amount of chesed these boys could be involved with, that while not learning Torah, it will be doing Torah.

  • Lawrence says:

    For them to leave as they threatened is a solution to the problem that they caused. I do not care if they do not serve in the army. Frankly I do not trust them. In the time when we really need them, will they listen to their commanding officer or will they call their rabbi to find out what he thinks.

    I do not think that they should get a single shekel from the government. This is my money and I have better use for it.

    • shlomo says:

      Hi Lawrence – thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

      I must disagree with you. I don’t think this is a “problem that they caused.” It’s a problem with historical roots that has grown from something minor into something major.

      I think that just as the problem took years to become what it is, so too will it take years to be solved.

      My guess is that the chareidi world 20 years from now will look very different. To be more specific, I think that in 20 years a majority of chareidi men will serve in the IDF and will be part of the labor force.

  • Fred says:

    Rav Sabbato. Rosh Yeshiva, author Adjusting Sights.

    • shlomo says:

      Fred – thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment.
      Next time, try to stay a little longer and flesh out your thoughts. I guess I’m being dense, but I don’t follow your meaning.

  • YR says:

    The IDF does not want frum soldiers, it causes too many problems. There is a power struggle in Israel between the frum and the secular. The nonsense of the secular left that yeshiva man receives more than IDF soldier is a ruse. How much gov’t money goes to Opera, Ballet, etc. Nobody talks about that. Keeping ourselves religious in the digital age is the main concern. The secular will migrate to the US, imho.

    • shlomo says:

      Thanks for adding your thoughts here.

      I think that you’re correct that fundamentally the IDF does not want soldiers who will demand such things as high-level kashrut supervision and strict separation between men and women soldiers.

      There is definitely a struggle between the religious and secular elements in Israeli society. What I wrote is based on the assumption that the role of chareidim is changing and that soon they will in fact be drafted into the IDF. I will be very surprised if something like the Tal Law is reenacted.

      Just one question for you. If, as you suggest, all of the secular folks will leave Israel, then who will serve in the IDF?

  • Hillel Levin says:

    What none of the leftist press is reporting is that almost 40% on the not-yet observant Jewish youth are not reporting to the draft. When asked the usual answer is that they feel no connection to Eretz Yisroel so why should they risk their lives.

    On the other hand you have the observant Jewish Youth who might make the argument that they have no connection with Medinat Yisroel so why should they risk their spiritual lives.

    • shlomo says:

      Thanks for adding your thoughts here. As you’ve pointed out, this topic is much deeper than the small slice of it that I discuss in my post.

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