Sunday, June 30, 2013

But what’s the source?

Warning: The following post may exceed the recommended daily allowance for controversial topics. Proceed at your own risk.

In general, those who feel that not one of Israel’s chareidim should ever have to serve in the IDF tend to base their position on two separate claims:

  1. The chareidim’s* Torah learning provides a metaphysical protection that equals - or perhaps even exceeds - the IDF. (*Note the implication that it’s only THEIR Torah learning that counts. Apparently, neither hesder yeshivot nor working people who are kovei’a itim – i.e. regularly dedicate time in their busy weekly and daily schedules to Torah learning – have this power. But I digress…)
  2. The IDF is not an appropriate environment for religious or chareidi soldiers.

However, Rav Natan Slifkin recently highlighted the contradictions and inconsistencies inherent in the former claim, and in my post about the IDF and religious soldiers, I tried to show that the latter claim is simply untrue.

Which raises a key question that no one seems to be able to answer:

What is the halachic source for such a widespread military exemption? In other words, is there any heter (halachic justification or license) for not serving in the IDF?

After all, many (most?) authorities concur that the current situation constitutes a milchemet mitzvah (an obligatory war), when NO ONE is exempt from serving.

As the Mishnah (Sotah 8:7) famously teaches, during a milchemet mitzvah:

“Everyone goes out [to war] – even a bridegroom from his chamber and a bride from her wedding canopy.” (See also the Rambam - Hilchot Melachim U’Milchamot 7.)

And even if one disagrees and holds that the current situation is not akin to a milchemet mitzvah but is “merely” a milchemet reshut (a “voluntary” war), there still would not be a blanket exemption for chareidim.

The Rambam (Hilchot Melachim U’Milchamot 7) lists four very specific categories of individuals who are exempted from serving during a milchemet reshut, but learning Torah is not one of them.

Admittedly, some interpret the Rambam at the end of Hilchot Shmitah V’Yovel to mean that talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars or sages) resemble Shevet Levi (the Tribe of Levi) and are thus exempted from military service.


  1. Many commentators disagree with this interpretation.
  2. Shevet Levi was still required to provide logistical, spiritual, and moral support. (See here for more details.)
  3. It is very hard to say that the ENTIRE chareidi community, en masse, meets the criteria of “talmidei chachamim.”

So our question remains: What’s the source/halachic justification for not serving in the IDF?

I would suggest that it doesn’t exist…


Your thoughts?
(Please keep it civil. Thanks!)


P.S. The latest Kosher Cooking Carnival is available here. Special thanks to Batya for including my French coffee cake post.

P.S.S. The latest JPiX carnival is available here. Special thanks to Leora for including three of my posts: Nov, Hevron, and the wheat harvest.


  1. Thanks for linking to JPiX. And thank your sons for serving in the IDF. Obviously, thank you isn't really enough for that one. They are true leaders.

    1. Thanks, Leora. BA"H, we're very proud of them!

  2. 'What’s the source/halachic justification for not serving in the IDF?'
    It is a controversy I have never understood. If you live in a democratic country serving it is a duty. If you live in Israel it is a double duty: as a citizen and as a Jew.

    1. Exactly! In fact, as many have noted, serving in the IDF isn't just a responsibility. It's also a privilege, because IDF service involves many mitzvot - including saving lives (which is both a positive mitzvah, i.e. piku'ach nefesh, and a negative mitzvah, i.e. “lo taamod al dam rei’echa”), inhabiting/settling the Land of Israel, and others.

  3. This blog post has been included in Shiloh Musings: Nine Days' Havel Havelim, What to Read Online.  Please visit and of course share and read & share all of the other posts included in this edition.  If you haven't already, you're welcome to join the Havel Havelim jblog community.
    Shabbat Shalom u'Mevorach
    May you and your dear ones enjoy a very blessed and peaceful Shabbat.

    PS thanks for the KCC mention


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