Yeshiva Students and Army Service
Why do most yeshiva students not serve in the Israeli army?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
First we have to define a Jewish army.
The Torah itself provides military exemption to all those who are afraid of battle. The Talmud explains this refers to people who are afraid that because of their sins, they may not be protected in war.
Thus we see that those who serve in the Jewish army are the most righteous of all. The Talmud says that when Abraham went out to rescue his nephew Lot from the warring kings, Abraham led the battle himself (see Genesis 14:14).
The other thing we need to understand is what is a "yeshiva"? It is NOT a place for sitting around, drinking coffee, and shmoozing all day. Rather it is a place for delving into the historical, ethical and spiritual roots of the Jewish people. Then, just as research scholars in a university, these men develop new, creative ways of addressing society's issues and problems. This is achieved through communal leadership and activism, and by fulfilling the Jewish mission of being a universal role model, a light unto the nations.
As could be expected, the fulfillment of this ideal accrues tremendous spiritual merit and protection for the Jewish people. That is why it is so important for the State of Israel to support the ideal of full-time yeshiva studies.
This concept actually has its roots in the Bible. In the days of King David, he would send out men to the battlefront, and leave an equal number of me behind to pray and study in their merit. This was the uniquely Jewish two-pronged attack. Thus many students contribute an important national service by studying in yeshiva.
I agree that not every yeshiva student is achieving this ideal, but maintaining a strong yeshiva system is critical to the health and success of the Jewish nation. Without fulfilling this role, we lose our distinct identity and reason d'etre.
Having said all that, it is important to note that today many fine yeshiva students do serve the in army, with the ideal of maximizing their national service in a combination of Torah studies and military duty. There are flourishing programs for yeshiva students including Nahal Haredi, Hesder (www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLWPJGFvuT8), and Machal (www.aishmachal.com/).
It is a fallacy that deferments for Israeli yeshiva students is an aberration. In fact, every civilized country - including the USA - provides draft deferments for divinity students. Furthermore, it is estimated that 25% of secular Israelis currently obtain some type of army deferment.