Monday, August 07, 2006

Torah Study vs. Hatzalas Nefashos - a rejoinder

Let me stir the pot a bit in my first posting here. The Chafetz Chaim's analysis of talmud torah and pikuach nefesh may be correct from a theoretical standpoint, but does not relate to the reality of draft deferment for yeshiva students. A number of possible distinctions may be drawn: 1) All things being equal, talmud torah outweighs all mitzvos, even pikuach nefesh, because passing on the mitzvah to others does not incur any cost to the other party other than forcing them to do a mitzvah. However, by passing on army service, one is not merely causing another person to gain a mitzvah, but is placing another person's life in danger in one's stead. I do not know of a makor that would allow endangering someone else's life for the sake of one's own talmud torah. 2) Unlike pikuach nefesh of the moment, a modern solider must undergo months of training before he can be sent to the front lines. If those who are "yoshvei bais medrash" were needed for battle due to pikuach nefesh considerations, they would find themselves woefully unprepared for the task. A small state like Israel may indeed need an entire population of battle prepared citizens for times of crises. 3) The deferment of yeshiva students is not based on de facto military need, but is based on a de jure exemption - by Bari's own analysis, a review of military need would be the fair way to decide on deferment rather than exemptions en masse. 4) The mass deferment of yeshiva students impinges on the morale and resolve of those fighting, who view such deferment as unwarranted. The pikuach nefesh cost exacted by lesser morale and the chilul Hashem caused by negative stereotypes of chareidim widening the rift between secular and religious society needs to be weighed in the equation. 5) Finally, it is worth quoting R' Ahron Lichtenstein's comments as they relate to the Rambam's statement that anyone devoted fully to Torah becomes like sheivet Levi, exempt from service (Tradition, Fall 1985, also cited by A. Cohen, Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Spring 1992, here):
"Finally, even if we grant that the Rambam's statement does imply a categorical dispensation in purely halachic terms, it remains of little practical significance. We have yet to examine just to whom it applies. A levi is defined genealogically. Those who are equated with him, however, literally or symbolically, are defined by spiritual qualities; and for these the Rambam sets a very high standard indeed. He present an idealized portrait of a selfless, atemporal, almost ethereal person - one whose spirit and intelligence have led him to divest himself of all worldly concerns and who has devoted himself "to stand before God, to serve Him, to worship Him, to know God; and he walks aright as the Lord has made him and he has cast off from his neck the yoke of the many considerations which men have sought." To how large a segment of the Torah community - or, a fortiori, of any community - does this lofty typology apply? To two percent? Five Percent? Can anyone... confront a mirror and tell himself that he ought not to go to the army because he is kodesh kodashim, sanctum sanctorum, in the Rambam's terms? Can anyone with even a touch of vanity or a concern for kavod contend this? Lest I be misunderstood, let me state clearly that I have no quarrel with economic aspiration or with normal human foibles per se. again, least of all do I wish to single out b'nei yeshivot for undeserved moral censure. I do feel, however, that those who would single themselves out for saintliness should examine their credentials by the proper standard."

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