Analysis On The Atzeres Tefillah In Manhattan


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[By Rabbi Yair Hoffman]

This is a response to my good friend Reb Barry Jacobson’s remarks on the Asifa this past Sunday in Manhattan. It also addresses his inquiry printed in the Five Towns Jewish Times about Torah sources regarding Bnei Torah continuing to study rather than serving in the army. There is no question, of course, that the soldiers who are protecting the nation against the enemies of the Jewish people are fulfilling a remarkable task and a holy role. Certainly, all of us who are beneficiaries of their bravery and dedication should express our sincere hakaras haTov and pray for their welfare and well-being.

The leading sages of America, Degel HaTorah, Agudah in Eretz Yisroel and the sages of Shas – the Sefardic Torah organization had all signed on for the call to join in the mass gathering in the Wall Street area. The mass gathering was to show solidarity with the Torah community in Israel that is facing the unprecedented law in the state of Israel’s history to draft Yeshiva students into the armed forces.

This response is an explanation and a historical overview about the confluence of army service and Torah study. Not everyone will agree with the explanations and positions set forth here. However, those that do not agree must realize that they do come from a very different socio-religious milieu than those in the Chareido world who have been brought up with and raised with a deep appreciation of Torah being the only definition of true life.

Serious-minded Chareidi Jews do not merely recite the words of the blessings of the Shma perfunctorily. No. When they recite the words, “Ki haim chayeinu – for they are our life – v’orech yameinu and the pathways of our life..” – they truly mean it.

The situation is somewhat analogous to the Manhattan Project during World War II. The top secret project that was to develop the atom bomb required an enormous amount of manpower – manpower that would normally have gone toward the war effort. The project was top secret and few understood what the Manhattan Project was all about, even the mass workers who were building centrifuges to build heavy water extraction plants. Workers and scientists who labored in the project were constantly subjected to sneers and snide remarks from the average citizenry – whose boys were across two oceans, the Atlantic and the Pacific, fighting.

The parallel is obvious. There was little appreciation for those who toiled at electro-magnetic isotope separation, thermal diffusion, U-235 production and Plutonium production, instead of going to the army. There is little appreciation as well for those who toil in Nashim, Nezikin, Kodshim and Moed, instead of fighting in the IDF. Bring the subject up to someone who was not raised in the bedrock of Torah life and you will invariably get the response, “Oh come on! They are so different!”

But there is no difference.

The Manhattan Project was crucial in saving hundreds of thousands of American lives. And, according to Chazal, full time Torah study is crucial in saving the Jewish people. But let’s take a quick tour through the historical record.

The Gemorah in Nedarim (32a) discusses the war of Avrohom Avinu with the four kings. The Gemorah asks why it was that Avrohom Avinu was punished with his descendants having to become exiled and enslaved. The Gemorah answers because he drafted Talmidei Chachomim. True, Shmuel provides a different reason – but the halacha still stands with the first explanation.

It was 1917, thirteen years after the arrival of Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Kook zt”l on the shores of Eretz Yisroel. The first World War had broken out and Rav Kook, the patriarch of the religious Zionist movement pleaded with the Chief Rabbi of England to try and rescind the decree of the drafting of Yeshiva students. The letter was written to Rabbi Dr. Joseph Hertz (of the famous Hertz Chumash) and is found in Iggeres HaRaya Vol. III p. 88 (#810). Rav Kook zatzal pleaded with Rabbi Dr. Hertz to use his good offices to try to spare the Yeshiva students. The plea was nearly identical with the pleas of the Chareidi spokespeople today.

Rabbi Shlomo Benizri in his Toraso Umnaso cites the Sichos HaRav Tzvi Yehudah Kook (Chapter One response 305) that although the Yeshivos that offer both learning and army service (Hesder Yeshivos) are necessary, “Hainan hashniyos b’erech b’madreigos rommemus haTorah – they are a second tier in the steps to the grandeur of Torah.” The first tier is comprised of the Torah-only Yeshivos.

Indeed, Rav Shlomo Zevin zatzal, whom Mr. Jacobson cites in his article, is also quoted in HaPardes (Vol 8 ’47 p. 8) that the Yeshivos represent a “lechatchila – an ideal” and he further writes (Tehillim 105), “Do not touch my anointed ones and in my prophets do no harm!”

No one is going to argue that when the geo-political situation is such that there is an imminent danger that all available people should go out to protect the nation. This was often the situation in the past as the war of 1948 demonstrated. But in current times, even the top IDF experts assert that there is no manpower shortage.

Another example: We need Hatzolah volunteers in our communities here in the greater New York metropolitan area. However, to institute a mandatory draft of EMT’s taking those draftees from other programs, at this point, is simply not warranted. It may not be politically correct to say so, but it is nonetheless true.

Will some disagree with the Manhattan Project analogy? The Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Merkaz HaRav, the flagship Yeshiva of the religious Zionist movement, didn’t. Rav Shaul Israeli is quoted in the I Taives edition 5747 of HaTzofeh as saying, “A man who sits and studies Torah protects the world no less than a military army.”

What is missing in all this, however, is the realization that we are all children of the same mother and father. We are all parts of the same body and we should treat each other with the respect and love that we must have for our family members – even if we do disagree as to what approach should be emphasized or adopted. Recently, we have seen two conflicting PR Youtube videos to a song entitled “Anu Mashkimim v’haim Mashkimim.” The song explains how we awaken early for the right purposes, they awaken early for useless purposes. The song was used by both sides of the debate to denigrate the other side. Both uses of the song are wrong. We stand now in the month of Adar. The Manos HaLevi, Rav Shlomo Alkabetz, explains that the concept of Shalach Manos is to further brotherly love and ahavas Yisroel among ourselves. It is to counter the statement of Haman that the Jewish nation is Mefuzar and Mefurad throughout the nations because of their lack of unity. The month of Adar should counter the spirit of disunity and contribute to family love.

May Hashem speedily grant mutual respect and unity among us. Amain!

The author can be reached at [email protected]



  1. The basic assumption set out in the article is “There is no question, of course, that the soldiers who are protecting the nation against the enemies of the Jewish people are fulfilling a remarkable task and a holy role.”

    That is where modern posekim disagree and comes to the heart of the matter. If in fact Torah prohibited the armed seizure of Eretz Yisrael from the Arabs, then the soldiers are participating in an aveirah, and the whole of the zionist enterprise is endangering klal Yisrael by getting us into an unnecessary and halachically prohibited war. This is the logical conclusion of what many hareidim hold.

    If you hold as the writer does that the war is a justified one, the only possible argument against serving in the army is failure to accomodate a Torah lifestle (though they do accomodate a modern orthodox one). However if the you hold that war is “treff”, army service would be prohibited even if the IDF was run in a way that all hareidim would support, and even if all the officers were hareidi and the kenesset excluding non-hareidim. IF Torah prohibts going to war to seize Eretz Yisrael from the goyim at this time, and absent a navi to authorize the war, it is prohibited even if the war the decision to go to war is made by (misguided) hareidim.

    The intolerance of the pro-zionists towards the widely known anti-zionist positions is the cause of the crisis.

  2. Rabbi Hoffman: You disqualify your views in your first paragraph. Contrary to what you write, there is widespread condescension amongst the chareidm to the IDF and the soldiers.No one is actually (in your words)”expressing hakoras hatov and praying for their welfarev and being”
    When was the last time a mi sheberach was made for the soliders (and for the medinah) in a chareidi shul? When was the last time a chareidi leader actually rose and thanked the soldiers? All the rest of your piece is irrelevant if the premise is faulty.

  3. If learning Torah protects Jewish lives, then we should open up branches of Ponovezh and Mir (with Chareidi-chosen roshei yeshivos and rebbeim) on our borders with Gaza, Syria, and Lebanon. Bochrim of army draft age could learn there for 3 years (with army issued cots and food – Bedatz, of course)fulfilling their “service” for the nation. Chilonim would see yeshiva bochrim “putting their money where their mouths are” and believing in the Torah that they learn, and yeshiva bochrim would learn to appreciate their age peers in the army. Achdus would ensue.

  4. The issue that everyone including Rabbi Hoffman fails to address is that it’s not all black and white. There is no doubt that people who learn like Rav Chaim belong in Beis Medrash and protect us with their Torah. There are many others who protect us with their Torah. I just used Rav Chaim as an example. But I also believe in the concept of the Torah protecting us and those who learn Torah protect us. But we live a world of Teva and when G-d protects us its via the army who are his messengers. For some crazy reason we have devised a Yessochor Zevulun with a bunch of non-religious people who are children and grand-children of Communists (who worshiped Stalin even after Krushchev disavowed him), who would burn sifrei torah and have Dances on Yom Kippur. We are now in a position where Baruch Hashem the first grade is more than 30 percent Chareidi (and this does not included the Kanoim). So the question is a real one. Who will stand up and protect the people of Israel? Who will work for a living and make sure that we are not reliant on that same Zevulun that I referred to before. Furthermore, there are many children who figure out when they are ten years old that Gemara is not for them. Not chas v;shalom because they don’t like the Torah, but simply because they can’t hack it. What do you tell that child? Go sit in Yeshiva and learn Torah from morning till night for the rest of your life? And where should he go when he feels forced to leave the Yeshiva? Should it be the Dati-Leumi because the Torah World gave up on work after the generation of the survivors? Or should he turn to the Hedonistic Tel Aviv world, or the world of the Kibutzim? We need a working Frum world, a real zevulun, like we have here in the USA and the rest of the world. In Israel going to the Army is part of work. The Yair Lapids are evil people, because they know full well that they will not create a working Hareidi world. They will create a reactionary world of people who will not go to the army, not work. His hope is that they will continue to bleed people, perhaps even get it to a point where there will be a hemorrhage Rachmana Litzlan. The Dati-Leumi community has shown that it does not value Torah by aligning with Lapid and signing on to this law, which even the Defense Minister says is a bad one. There is no alternative to a Torani working class who has not polluted yiddishkeit with external influences. There is a need for a Jewish state, and a Jewish army staffed with people who have Torah values. We can only accomplish this by extending the Torah and the word of G-d to all aspects of Jewish life.

  5. “Workers and scientists who labored in the project were constantly subjected to sneers and snide remarks from the average citizenry…”

    I have no idea where you go this from, it is patently not true. Those who worked on the Manhattan Project, scientists, construction workers, and all other people, were certainly not sneered at for their work. It was evident that the were involved in the war efforts, even if those efforts were not on the front lines. Go speak with any person who spent time working on the project, or read any book about the project.

    If there was any sneering, then it would have been directed towards those who dodged the draft, and went about the ways indifferent to the sacrifices of the rest of the country which contributed towards the national efforts in so many ways, including putting their lives on the line for national security and for the safety of all people.

  6. Dear Rabbi Hoffman,
    As always, your presentation is clear and comprehensive. And, as is generally the case, it’s difficult to argue with you on the specific points you make. That said, I think your article largely misses the point of what is really disturbing people about the Atzeres.
    By way of introduction, I am a ba’al teshuva, have attended Chareidi yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel and America, and currently live in a large Chareidi community. I did not attend the Atzeres yesterday, because I could not bring myself to lend support for something I felt such total dissonance with.
    The issue is not a theoretical one, of whether Limmud Torah protects Klal Yisroel. The question is whether that can justify a wholesale exemption for an entire sub-section of a nation, from the broader responsibilities of citizenship. The question is whether EVERYONE, simply by virtue of their association with a particular lifestyle or community, should be included under this exemption – irrespective of whether they are actually learning or not. You and I have definitely seen people who approach their Limmud Torah with that sense of achrayus for Klal Yisroel that you describe – but you certainly don’t expect the readers to buy that this is emblematic of the majority of those in Yeshivos and Kollelim in Israel, do you? So what of those people who are registered in Kollelim, but who show up at 10am, drink some coffee and smoke a cigarette, learn a bit, shmooze a bit, have another cup of coffee, and then go home for lunch? How much Teshuva do they do for the soldiers that are killed because THEY were achray for protecting Klal Yisroel and they failed at their job? You can’t have it both ways – you can’t say that they’re potur because Klal Yisroel’s safety depends on them, and not have them held to even a modicum of standard to approach their Limmud Torah with that sense…
    And by the way, if you are correct, that those serving in the army are truly seen as playing a role in the protection of Klal Yisroel – partners, if you will, with the Lomdei Torah; where, in all of the vitriol about the Atzeres both here and in Eretz Yisroel, was that sense of respect conveyed? Where is that sense of respect EVER conveyed by the chareidi community. I’m not advocating for Tefillas HaMedina – I have never said it, not do I intend to start now – but wouldn’t you expect to find us expressing that respect and appreciation in some manner if, in fact, it exists? And don’t you find any dissonance in accusing the Medina of trampling and trying to destroy the Torah community, while not giving any recognition to the millions and millions of shekel that go each year towards Kitzvat Yeladim and Misrad HaChinuch money, that these b’nei Torah have been living on for all these years? What about the government money spent on building batei kenessios that house the Kollelim? Is that also an indication of a government that tramples and oppresses Lomdei Torah?
    But most disturbing of everything, is the seeming disinterest of the Chareidi leadership to actually “lead” in this issue. Was there no attempt to negotiate, to find a middle ground, to communicate our desire to find a solution that addresses the real social issues and at the same time acknowledges our historic Worldview? If these meetings were held, and amounted to nothing, don’t you think that should have been communicated? We tried to work with them, but they wouldn’t budge…” Rather, we go right to the streets and allow the rhetoric of loud-mouthed individuals, YouTube Video makers, and newspaper headlines, to communicate messages of closed-mindedness, irrationality, and an unwillingness to work in partnership IN ANY WAY with the non-chareidi portion of Israeli Society.
    Rabbi Hoffman, your article was beautiful, but tragically naive. Our community, with all of its wonderful values and commitment to Torah and Mitzvos, is corroding from within. You can see the signs of decay all around… At some point, our leadership, many of whom I have (and continue to) place before me as guides and mentors, will have to move beyond the plattitudes and cliches that you so eloquently expressed, and deal with the real problems we’re facing, and what needs to be done to solve them.

  7. “Workers and scientists who labored in the project were constantly subjected to sneers and snide remarks from the average citizenry…”

    “I have no idea where you go this from, it is patently not true.”

    Dont know anyone of the WWII generation, but had several teachers who were “of age” during the Vietnam war. 2 in particular used to tell us how they were looked down on by their friends for not “serving their country”. One was rejected by the draft board due to a medical condition and the other was assigned a desk job stateside due to his writing skills.

  8. It is perhaps the first time that I would say that I even mostly agree with akuperma. However, I would add the following. That, I beg to differ with the last paragraph and if it is that the you believe that the war and the state are as you Mr. akuperma point our are “treif” then it is hypocritical for those that feel this way to be living in such a state. If you will argue that the people that feel that the state is wrong have been there longer than the State has been in existence, then I would say that perhaps nobody with that attitude should consider going to Israel now. They are using the facilities of the treif state and being protected by its treif and krum army. Their presence there is a de facto acceptance that the State is valid. In short, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

    Thank you Rabbi Hoffman. I hope your words will come true and we can sit with each other in peace and treat each other with respect.

  9. The harsh decrees, draft laws, changes in Israel government statutes has brought out the worst in Klal Yisroel in years. Whether it is the angry media, strong acid statements emanating from the mouths of leaders, violence in the streets or just plain ‘lack of respect’ between Jews we have descended to the lowest rungs.

    The entire subject of Yeshiva Students and IDF enlistment began with a status quo system initiated by Ben Gurion upon the advise of the Chazon Ish. The Yeshiva world was an entirely different world at that time, a homogenous group of Bnei Torah, ‘anointed ones”, “toraso umnaso” chevra of lomdei torah. THESE students who were categorized as “toraso umnaso (TU) were given a deferment/exemption from IDF service. In the early days of the Medinah, the numbers were small and post TU talmidim found employment in education, government jobs, service centers, businesses after a short stint in the IDF. Todays Charedi MKs, Journalists, bank managers and several business owners are post-IDF reservists.

    The talmidim that the esteemed Rav Kook, Rav Zevin, Rav Israeli spoke of were the full time, TU lomdei torah. We have far surpassed that era. The Bnei Torah of the 21st Century are a diverse heterogeneous group, still a staunch kehilla of ‘Toraso Umnaso’ mixed with other segments. When was it decided that all Bnei Torah are exempted from IDF service? This silent pink elephant is constantly ignored and pushed aside….perhaps when a dialogue takes place a solution can be envisioned!

  10. happyolah you begin with if. are you saying that limud hatorah is what protects klay yoisroel is up for debate? do yuo need to be quoted chapter and verse?? you have a lot to learn how about opening a sefer be4 you bow down to the israeli flag.

  11. Rabbi Hoffman’s article is addressing essentially only the smaller (yet still important) issue of limud haTorah versus general military service.

    One can presume that, due to the crowd he is writing for, he cannot address the uncomfortable (for “MO”) issue of the IDF and shmad. I’m curious what he would say about this issue.

    The gedolim have stated, then and now, that the IDF in particular is not for an observant Jew.

    But the points he makes, particularly since he is quoting Rabbis who the “Religious Zionists” hold by, should be very enlightening, particularly to “MO”.

  12. zionflag:
    It wasn’t “advice” from the Chazon Ish that BG took out of the goodness of his heart. It was a condition of getting the gentile nations to agree to recognition of the State.

    There is no known cap on the number of “divinity students” anywhere else in the world, never mind that there is no mandatory draft anywhere in the civilized world.

  13. “Happy Olah”:
    Are you really claiming that these yeshiva students should deliberately endanger themselves by learning in those areas so that the Hashem would have to protect them in the merit of their Torah even more than He already does?

  14. #s 11 and 14: The summer that chayalim were fighting and dying in Lebanon to prevent Hezbollah rockets from falling on Northern Israel, yeshivas were debating whether or not to take their bein hazmanim vacations. Some said it would make a chilul hashem to have chareidi young men making bbqs in public (they were right), but others claimed that their bochrim worked hard all year long and deserved a vacation. B”H, the war ended before Tisha B’Av and a huge chilul hashem was avoided. The yeshivas who contemplated vacation had to believe one of the following two thoughts: 1) Torah learning doesn’t really protect Jews, so it doesn’t matter if we take a vaction; OR 2) Torah learning does protect Jews, but we don’t care because the soldiers aren’t unzerin. Because choice number two is worse, I prefer to believe number one. Also, last year when rockets were falling all over Israel (including Yerushalayim), a certain gadol in Bnei Brak reassured his people that no rockets would fall there because of the Torah learning in Bnei Brak. Therefore, I submit my proposal: Let bochrim learn in towns like Sedorot where Jewish lives are embattled, and let the shield of their Torah learning protect them. You know, be the partners that they claim to be. Then maybe Israelis whose sons are endangering their own lives protecting EY on the frontlines (like my own son) would be less resentful.

  15. It wasn’t “advice” from the Chazon Ish that BG took out of the goodness of his heart. It was a condition of getting the gentile nations to agree to recognition of the State.,, this has been a debatable fact for the longest time, repeat repeat repeat and after awhile it becomes part of the Jewish history books!!

    There is no known cap on the number of “divinity students” anywhere else in the world—-HUH, who are divinity students??? Learning BH for a few years and then doing some training courses or running a store, where’s the divinity or even the divine?.

    never mind that there is no mandatory draft anywhere in the civilized world—–Funny, remember my two brothers in a quick, makeshift Yeshiva with all their friends during the Vietnam WAR,,, must have been mandatory or he would have been doing college full-day rather then just night course. He surely was not a divinity student???

  16. bklynmom:
    No, there is no debate. An Zionist like BG himself?
    A Yeshiva student is, of course, a divinity student.
    Yes, DURING the Vietnam war there was a draft. But there was none during either Iraqi war, for instance. And, B”H, there is no draft in the US now despite the various theaters that US troops are still operating in.

  17. Happy Olah:
    I hope your son returns home safely to you. But your post seems to belie your screen name. If you’re not happy that your son is serving then what does that have to do with anyone else not serving when he would likely be in exactly the same place regardless and you knew Israel’s rules going in and even claim to be happy about it?

    Regardless, there is a very simple reason that the yeshivos should not be on the front lines as you absurdly suggest: they don’t need to be on the front line and it would detract from their efficiency is they were. Whereas fighters that are needed there should, of course, be there.

    Regarding the summer issue, your two choices are both offensive and do not dignify a response, though you could certainly ask any of those Roshei yeshiva what the thought process was.

  18. akuperma – The Satmer Rebbe was an Ish Kadosh v’Tahar! Non-the-less, he was not the only Gadol that existed. Many Gedolim were Cholek with him. I am not saying he was wrong, Chalilah! What I am saying is “Eilu v’Eilu Divrei Elokim Chaim”! I find the biggest problem Dizmaneinu on all sides is that everybody is saying that “the Emes/Emet is with me” and no-one else! This is the root of the real problem.

    There is nothing wrong with saying, “I hold differently”. There is something wrong with say, “Only my view is correct”.

  19. #2 rabbiofberlin – half my Yeshivas do say Mi Shaberach for the chayalim, and several Rebbeim from all my Yeshivas served as well. I even remember one of them coming back from boot camp with harsh Tochacha to the boy with the following words, “… they are not against you learning. However, if you are learning LEARN! Don’t be shmoozing outside!”

    I never learned in a Mizrachi Yeshiva. Only Chareidi Yeshivas. So you are dead wrong about the soldiers!

    You are right about not saying Mi Shaberach for the Medina. That is because we have a very different view about the Medina as you do. We do not look at them as our friends, but rather follow the Gra, 11th chapter of Even Shleima.

  20. #4 Happy Olah – your comment is immature and unrealistic.

    1) because it would not change the Zionistic view about going into the Army even if they did learn at the borders.

    2) Both Dovid HaMelech and Shlomo HaMelech did not act according to your view and they held strongly that it was the Limud HaTorah that was protecting their soldiers.

    3) I have a son that in fact does learn near the front line!

    None of this is changing your opinion, so don’t waste time saying senseless things. If you want to be heard think before talking.

  21. #7 JustARegularJew – I don’t know what Yeshivas you learned in, but if all the Talmidim in your Yeshiva are akin to the way you describe I understand you and your attitude. However, Rav Hoffman and myself both learned in Yeshivas that the vast majority of students were very serious learners. In my Yeshiva the Rosh Yeshiva would go outside from time to time to check if anyone was outside shmoozing. He would talk often about the Chilul Hashem that doing so would create.

    Like I said, we learned in Yeshivas that the Talmidim learned. Are you really ready to justify the Government’s throwing out the baby with the bath water?!

    I could comment about a lot of other misguided statements you made here, but I think what’s said is enough.

  22. zionflag – we are in the last moments of Ichvisa Dimeshicha. It makes sense that grudges that have laid dormant for decades would surface at this time. We see similar by the Shivtei Kah. In the end, all will become clear.

    The most important aspect here, however, is that people approach this subject with an open ear and real honesty. Too many people come to the table with their preconceived notions and thus are not willing to re-examine their views.

    For example, how many D”L are stating that not serving the army is an “Aveira” and that the Chareidim are sinners for not serving. And yet, Rav Kook, himself held that Bnei Torah (disclaimer – those that learn in Yeshiva, not specifically Black Hat) are patur from serving. That seems to be contradictory to me.

  23. Softwords – I was not describing my own Yeshiva experience, nor do I doubt your description of yours. But it is hardly a debatable issue that there is a significant segment of the Chareidi male population that is simply “holding on” in Kollel in order to maintain draft exemptions. Are you really going to debate that point simply because you learned in a Yeshiva where the Rosh Yeshiva was actually on top of the bochurim and yungerlite about shmiras hasedarim? I remember vividly hearing Reb Wolbe ZTz”L bemoan this issue nearly 20 years ago in Beis HaMussar. Take a walk through Beis Yisroel or Meah Shearim one morning at around 10:30 and have a look for yourself…

    As for the many other “misguided statements” I made, I’m always open to becoming un-misguided if you’d be so kind as to enlighten me…