In this article Rabbi Shalom Miller explains his views on IDF service from a halachic perspective.
OSA: Why is IDF Service so controversial from a Torah Judaism perspective?
IDF service and Halacha
Rabbi Miller: Before we begin a discussion about army service and halacha, it is important to understand the great times we live in. The birth of a Jewish State and its development over the last 72 years is a 2000 year dream come true. We dare not forget that for a moment!
IDF and Torah Observance
RM: It is controversial because the State of Israel has a secular origin and Tzaha”l is not run according to Jewish/Torah law. There are religious factions that maintain that “this State is not worth fighting for.” I strongly disagree with that approach.
OSA: Is it acceptable for an observant Jew to serve in Tzahal?
RM: It is not only acceptable to serve in Tzahal, it is a Mitzvah.
Rav Eliezer Melamed and Peninai Halacha
Rav Eliezer Melamed, a rabbinic leader in the religious Zionist community, states in פניני הלכה (Pninai Halacha) two major reasons why army service is a Mitzvah:
- It’s a mitzvah to protect all 7 million Jews in Israel.
- It’s a mitzvah to defend Eretz Yisrael form external threat.
“Anyone who saves one Jewish life it is as if he saved the entire world”Talmud Sanhedrin Chapter 4
Military Service in the Torah
RM: Army service is discussed at great length in the Tana”ch but most importantly it is addressed directly in the Torah in different contexts.
Throughout the Torah we learn that God gave the Land of Israel to Avraham and his descendants.
At the end of Bamidbar(33:50-56), the Torah enters into a direct discussion about the commandment of settling the Land of Israel.
Ramban and Zionism
The Ramban commenting on this section (Numbers 33:53) understands this to be a commandment for all time. Within that context the Torah tells us to conquer the Land (Numbers 33:52), settle it and protect it from dangerous enemies and negative spiritual forces like idolatry (Numbers 33:52). It goes without saying if we are meant to settle the land we must also protect ourselves and defend our land. A Jew is not allowed to stand idly by when another Jew, let alone a nation of Jews, is in danger as it says in Leviticus 19:16 “לא תעמד על דם רעך אני ה”.
OSA: What is Milkhemet Mitzvah?
Milkhemet Mitzvah and the Obligation to Serve in the Military
RM: This term dates from the rabbinic period. Milkhemet Mitzvah means that it is an obligation for the Jewish people to go to war. According to the Rambam, there are three basic reasons when a Milkhemet Mitzvah would arise.
- Conquering the Land of Israel from the 7 idolatrous nations (during the time of Joshua)
- Going to war with Amalek
- Defending the Jewish People when attacked by hostile enemies
OSA: Does the mitzva of Torah Learning conflict with the mitzvah of serving in the IDF?
On a practical level it certainly does. One cannot study Torah full time and serve in the Military. Much of Israel’s biblical history has included periods of “Milkhemet Mitzvah”. At times of Milkhemet Mitzvah, which the Modern state of Israel has faced continuously throughout its 72 years of existence, able-bodied religious Jews are mandated to get up from Torah learning and serve in Tzaha”l.
Melachim uMilchamot and the IDF
Rabbi Shalom Miller: Immediately before my students enter into the IDF I share with them the powerful words of the Rambam on serving in the Jewish army:
“Once a soldier enters the throes of battle, he should rely on the Hope of Israel and their Savior in times of need. He should realize that he is fighting for the sake of the oneness of God’s Name. Therefore, he should place his soul in his hand and not show fright or fear.”Mishnah Torah, Melachim uMilchamot – Chapter 7
Oro Shel Adam yeshiva for Olim has had the privilege of preparing and guiding tens of IDF Lone Soldiers before and during their army service in Tzahal. We are tremendously proud of the selfless dedication of our chayalim who fulfil a great Mitzvah by serving Israel and defending the Jewish People.