Tuesday, October 24, 2017

War(time) and Peace(time)


Since my last post (and even before) I have been spending a lot of time doing research on the Halachic status of the BDA prenuptial agreements. I have wanted to write on that subject ever since Emes V’Emunah put out a few posts in favor of the prenups back in August. I am too preoccupied to write about it now, but maybe I will get a post out in time for Chayei Sara ;-).

Currently, the army issue is making the headlines along with some severe traffic jams in Yerushalayim. It is annoying. I had to miss the Tolna Rebbe’s shiur last Thursday because it was impossible to drive out there.

Personally, I am caught between the two rabbinic opinions. I understand the position of the “hardliners” despite the fact that I am from the moderate camp who believes that if you can just show up at the Lishkat HaGiyus and get a legal deferment, why be obstinate and aggravate the IDF?  

Besides, I do have a son who served. (My other sons obtained legal deferments.)

I have never yet written a full 1A7B overview on the army issue. It is a very complex issue and it is very hard to do justice to it in a blog post. My posts are way too long as it is (which is because it is very hard to do justice to any major issue in a brief  blog post).

That said, a fellow blogger who is a very sincere Char-da”l (Chareidi/Dati-Leumi) type has just posted on the issue and it was brought to my attention. It follows the same widespread erroneous assumption that “serving in the army” is identical to “fighting in a war”. As such, these people apply the known halachos of fighting in a war to the concept of serving in an army (when there is hardly any war).

You can see his analysis HERE.

My comment is there, as well, but I have since enhanced it and, therefore, I am reprinting it here: 


I really haven’t written directly about the army issue, but there are many misconceptions at play.

1. There is no obligation to be part of an "army" whatsoever. There is an obligation to participate in a "war" (milchama) but not to serve in an army when there is no war. So the important thing is, how do we define “war”?

Every indication from Tanach and shas is that a "war" is an active military engagement in the face of enemy hostilities; when an armed force of men is mobilized for battle. In the past 30 years, there has been very little activity which meets the criteria of “war”. Desert Shield can be called “war”, Cast Lead can be called “war”, Second Lebanon War, Tzuk Eitan, Amud Anan, whatever you want. All these “wars” probably won’t add up to six months over the past twenty years. Manning checkpoints and going into Arab villages to arrest terrorists are not wars.

2. Every indication from Tanach is that there was no major standing army in Biblical times. The Jewish armies in those times were militia style armies of regular people – farmers, laborers, and perhaps even scholars – who were called up to arms when there was a call to arms. The rest of the time, they stayed home and worked or studied. We see this clearly in the wars of Barak and Gideon as well as Moshe's war against Midyan.

Indeed, there were professional Jewish soldiers under the command of the kings’ generals like Yoav and Avner but there is neither reason nor source to say that these soldiers were anything but volunteers. Also, a proper king has the right to draft anybody he wants into his personal guard. Nevertheless, there is no indication whatsoever that anybody was ever forcibly conscripted into a standing army to hang around and waste their lives when there was no active war going on.


In fact, as far as I know, the only place in Tanach that discusses a long-term conscription of any kind was Shlomo Hamelech's labor force for building the Bais HaMikdash (Melachm I 5:28). Even that was a rotation of one month on duty and two months at home.
Interestingly, the gemara in Sanhedrin (94b) clearly relates that when the nation of Yehuda was beiong attacked by the army of Sancheiriv which comprised 185,000 commanding officers, Chizkiyahu Hamelech conscripted every able bodies person to study in the Beis Midrash!

3. Today’s army is forced enslavement of young people for three crucial years using the excuse that they must be thus enslaved so that they can fight in combat just in case there is a week or two of actual “war” during this period. There is no Halachic premise to sanction this. Ironically, when the second Lebanon war occurred (34 days in 2006, the longest in the past 20 years), the IDF mostly left the army intact and called up reservists!

4. Incidentally, almost nobody who takes on this issue, including our esteemed blog host, seems to mention that Rashi,in no less than three places in Chumash, goes out of his way to stress that, even for a call up for active hostilities, the minimum age for soldiering is 20 years old.

So, to answer your title question, nobody has to serve in the army but anybody over 20 who is needed has to fight in a war for as long as that war is in effect.

Y. Hirshman

AuthorOne Above and Seven Below

עת מלחמה ועת שלום

May we be zocheh to see the final geula and put this whole controversy to rest once and for all. BB”A.




Once we are in Parshas Lech Lecha and discussing the Kedusha of Eretz Yisroel, please see this fascinating post from 2008:




Good Shabbos!

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