Should Yeshiva Bochurim Be Drafted to the IDF?

The age-old controversy surrounding drafting Yeshiva bochurim has exploded once again in Eretz Yisroel. What does the Rebbe say on the matter?

By A Chassidisher Derher

After the Six-Day War, the fighting continued sporadically on the Egyptian front. One day, Chassidim in Kfar Chabad received terribly shocking news. One of their own, Reb Dovid Marozov, had been killed in action while serving in the reserves.

The news sent shockwaves throughout the Chabad world, and during a farbrengen a short time later, the Rebbe spoke in a choked voice about “Chonye’s ainikeľ” who had passed on while protecting his brothers and sisters. 

Before mentioning his specific story the Rebbe raised a general question: Who is more worthy? Soldiers who protect at the front, or yeshiva bochurim who protect the nation through Torah learning?

Each is important, the Rebbe noted. The Gemara tells us that Dovid Hamelech’s Torah learning facilitated Yoav’s wars, and Yoav’s wars facilitated Dovid’s Torah learning, in a Yissachar-Zevulun style relationship.

But can one be considered more worthy than the other? In the relationship between Yissachar and Zevulun, Zevulun is considered more important for facilitating Yissachar’s learning. “How much more so regarding the soldiers, the Rebbe said, “who put their lives on the line to protect their fellow Jews from their enemies?’ 

Several months later the Rebbe again spoke about this topic, this time emphasizing the importance of Torah learning: 

“Without Dovids Torah learning, i.e. without Torah’s assertion that the Holy Land belongs to the Holy Nation, Yoav wouldn’t have any claim [with which to go to war]! In order for the army to be successful, there must be a counterpart who makes the spiritual effort! Just as someone who abandons the front is a deserter from the army, so too, if someone is in a yeshiva learning Torah for the sake of the Jewish nation but then closes his Gemara to prove that he can be a warrior too, he is a deserter as well! 

Indeed, from the IDF’s earliest days, yeshiva bochurim were absolved of army service due to their Torah learning, and the Rebbe strongly criticized any attempt to draft them even for short periods of time. In 5733, members of the Mafdal (a religious-Zionist political party) voiced support of yeshiva bochurim enlisting even if only for short periods of time, and the Rebbe pointed out how absurd it was. 

“Moshe Dayan and Ben-Gurion absolved yeshiva bochurim of army service, and specifically those who speak in the name of Judaism support drafting the yeshiva bochurim!” 

However, when individuals left yeshiva to work, they put themselves in a different situation. An individual once wrote to the Rebbe, asking for advice in obtaining a petur in order to go to work. When he didn’t receive a response, he asked a friend to bring it up in yechidus.

The Rebbe’s answer wasn’t what he expected. ‘The Rebbe quoted the Gemara, “מאי חזית דדמא דידך סמיק טפי” Why do you think your blood is redder than another’s?” If he would learn Torah, the Rebbe said, he would be eligible for a deferment, but what right does he have to go to work while someone else puts his life on the line for his safety…  

Read more on the Rebbe’s fascinating approach to the IDF in this Derher article.

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  1. Excellent article.

    There is however a huge difference between Yeshiva Students and the current situation where everyone born to a Frum family is exempt from the IDF, despite the fact that they are not currently learning in Yeshiva.

    The culture needs to change, either you learn in Yeshiva full time or join the IDF units designed for Frum Yidden.

    1. The problem is that there are no real “IDF units designed for Frum Yidden”.

      The amount of breaches in the standards of the “nachal hachreidi” shows that the idf are not seriously interested in accommodating the frume standards.

      If fact, they explicitly state that the army is the “melting pot” of Israeli society. And it shows; a huge percentage of bochurim (and yungerleit) that join the army have a yeridah bruchnius over the course of their service.

      As long as this isn’t satisfactorily rectified, no frum yid, in yeshiva or out, should be encouraged to join the army.

    2. Did the Rebbe ever say something like this?

      Or does the Rebbe view it the IDF like university which should be avoided even if someone’s not learning bc of the strong not frum influences there and also the fact that the way the army operates in regards to how they fight (or don’t fight) the Arabs?

    3. Everyone in Israel is drafted the IDF (whether he want to or not)
      and ONLY if the man brings documents proving that he is studying now in a yeshiva – his draft is rejected

  2. Great start for a discussion.
    If your in Yeshiva and your not taking your learning seriously, you don’t fit the bill.

    1. Though in previous generations yeshivos where exclusively were for those ready to learn more, today all rabbonim and roshei yeshiva agree that yeshivos are an “ir miklat” from the secular world outside and it is critical for every young person even if they are not up to fulltime learning.

      Now, what they should do with their time and whether someone who has a device (and therefore not in the “ir miklat”) is benefiting from being in yeshiva – those are questions worth asking.

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