Friday, September 5, 2008

Parshat Shoftim and Jewish Nationalism - Giving it our Best Shot

Parshat Shoftim is upon us. This is the main Bible of the Religious Zionists because this Parsha discusses all the issues of Jewish Nationalism. It discusses the governmental structure which consists mainly of two parts:

  • The legislative and judicial branch - the Sanhedrin
  • The executive branch - the Monarch
Each has their powers and limitations and essentially provide a "checks and balances" structure. In addition, Judaism has it's "church" class - the Kohanim and Leviim.

And it discusses the issues of military engagement.

I thought that when Parshat Shoftim rolls around, it would be a great time to give a preview of the nationalism and army issues that I am going to need to discuss (eventually). But the hour is late and time is short so I will only mention the points of contention and leave the details for later:

  • Can today's government be considered a Jewish national government?
  • What are the qualifications for a King?
  • Who has to show up for a war and who not?
  • What is a war?
  • What is the difference between a milchemes mitvah and a milchemes rishus?
  • What is the Halachic age for army service? (This is a tough one that will surprise many).
  • What are the responsiblities of the "church" class in this regard?
  • Can one be part of the "church" class even if he is not from Shevet Levy?
  • Does any of this apply today?
And the obvious impact of all this is to determine from a Halchic perspective if chareidim who avoid army service in today's Israel are in compliance or in contempt of Halacha L'maaseh.

I don't really need to discuss it because, for the most part the answers are all to be found in the Rambam in Hilchos Melachim (and that famous one in Hilchos Shemitta V'Yovel 13:12-13).

All that said, it's been a while since I posted a joke (to lighten up our Ellul) so here is a golden oldie (I assume that most readers are on the younger side and haven't heard all these ancient relics):

The Russian authorities set their eyes on a whole group of Yeshiva boys and drafted the whole lot. The Yeshiva boys did quite well in basic training and they excelled in marksmanship. Naturally, when the hostilities broke out, these Jewish infantrymen were rushed to the front lines.

They were told to dig in to their position and lay in wait for an anticipated charge from the enemy. They did not have to wait long as they were suddenly confronted by a surge of enemy soldiers rushing at them.

The commander ordered them to "Fire!"

No response.

"Fire!" screamed the commanding officer.

No response.

Totally frantic he screeamed again, "Fire! Fire, you idiots! How come nobody is shooting?"

One yeshiva bochur looks up at him and says:

"Can't you see? There are people in the way. Somebody is going to get hurt!"

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