How Some Religious Leaders in Israel Are Disgracing the Torah
Last week, tens of thousands of Israelis were prevented from traveling on their normal roads to get home. Not because of a terror threat, and not because of construction. Rather, hundreds of yeshiva students followed the instructions of Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach of Jerusalem, and blocked major intersections in Jersualem, Modiin, and my hometown of Bet Shemesh; they also stopped traffic on major roads, including Route 4 and Route 444. Some of the demonstrations turned violent, and a Bet Shemesh policeman sustained a head injury when a demonstrator threw a rock at him.
You are no doubt thinking: well, if Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach told his students and followers to demonstrate and block roads, then there must have been a good reason for this. The “good reason” given, and what the student demonstrators were demanding, was that a yeshiva student who was arrested for not serving in the Israel Defense Forces be released from prison.
There is only one problem with this justification.
It is false.
Here’s the real story.
Moshe Hazan, a student in the “Shaarei Tevunah” yeshiva in Elad, who claims to be in the category of “Torato U’manuto” — “Torah is his trade” — and thus is exempt from IDF service, was arrested in Eilat. At the time, Hazan and three friends had just left the Crazy Elephant night club, and taken a cab to a pub along the Eilat promenade. The charge for the ride was 25 shekels, but the yeshiva students threw a 20-shekel bill at the driver, and bolted out of the car.
The driver, more angry about the obnoxious behavior than not receiving the full fare, went to the local police station to complain. When the police located and detained the boys, they discovered that Hazan never appeared before the draft board to get his deferment — a criminal offense dating back well before the previous government and the new draft legislation on IDF exemptions. Hazan was given over to the IDF police, and is now serving time in an IDF prison.
The police reported that at the time of his arrest, Hazan was not wearing a kippa or tzitzit, and looked like a secular person having a fun night out on the town. So yeshiva students all over Israel, at the instruction of Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, wasted time from their own Torah study — and interrupted the lives of tens of thousands of Israelis — for the sake of this partying faker, who has the gall to hide behind the claim that “Torah is his trade” in order to avoid joining the rest of the nation in protecting and defending the state.
While Rabbi Auerbach’s students somehow believe that they are taking a stance for the glory of Torah, I can think of no bigger disgrace to Torah. They took our holy Torah — which should be raised to the greatest heights — and dragged it in the mud.
This episode exposes the hypocrisy of the Haredi leadership, who keep more than 50,000 young men away from the IDF because “Torah is their trade.” Anyone who has spent any time in the yeshiva world knows that all the boys do not study Torah day and night. Many would be better off leaving yeshiva to go serve and work after a few years of learning. One rosh yeshiva said that as many as 60 percent of the boys who are receiving deferments don’t really belong in yeshiva after a few years.
But the problem goes beyond hypocrisy. Because so many young men are not studying Torah day and night, and are just using it as an excuse so they can receive their deferral from army service, this takes away from the honor of those who sincerely study Torah day and night. These young men should be respected and supported by the nation. But because of the tens of thousands who cannot study day and night — among them, at least a few who frequent nightclubs in Eilat — Torah is lessened and disgraced in the eyes of broader Israel.
It is time for the American yeshiva community to recognize this hypocrisy and disgrace, and to drop support for a failed system that is damaging Torah and Israel’s appreciation of Torah.
May we hope and pray that change comes quickly, and a better system is created in which the elite Torah scholars are allowed to dedicate themselves to Torah alone, while all other yeshiva students are allowed to combine Torah study with army or national service, as well as integration into the workforce.