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May 16, 2016 6:21 am

How Some Religious Leaders in Israel Are Disgracing the Torah

avatar by Dov Lipman

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Yeshiva students. Photo: Matanya via Wikimedia Commons.

Yeshiva students. Photo: Matanya via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

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  • Al Sheeber

    Freeloaders from way back, my first encounters were during the early 50’s, I did not care for them than, nor today. We all had to serve, they serve their Rabbi, maybe the wife who is just an accessory, goes to work, takes care of the kids, cooks & cleans. It is a parasitic lifestyle of your typical schnorer, counting on another sucker to do the hard work, or fight for country and they the “Great Ones” , will loiter in the Beit Midrash, talk rubbish about a bull or a goat that strayed on somebody’s property, than cite 6 different noted rabbis, how they understood the contentious issue over the centuries and in the end, none of this matters because the law is civil, not Orthodox. The fact is the many thousands of these chaps do absolutely nothing for anybody-not even their wives who must go to work, to pay for the indulgences of the meshoogener Pooretz!

  • Texas Jew

    Elisha Samuel, you are anything but an impartial observer. Calling Rabbi Dov Lipman “Mr. Dov” should be the first hint to any intelligent reader. Additionally, your “frummer than thou” appeal to Hilchos Lashon hara on an opinion piece based on facts that are public knowledge and that are in the verifiable public record reeks of intellectual dishonesty.

    • Avi

      So don’t call it Lashon Hora. What exactly is the point of the article? The title alone is absolutely vile!

  • Esther Sarah Evans


    If the Chareidi establishment cannot take just criticism without trying to scream “lashon hara”, then there is something wrong. It would appear that the rabbi without informing himself properly jumped on the chance to do another demo for the pet peeve, which is – as Mr. Dov points out – a twisted and only partially just cause.

    My personal pet peeve is that the Chareidi demonstrations hurt mainly those people who are not the ones to be addressed. If the Chareidi establishments had any sense of decency and were versed in Mussar, they would take such grievances to the people who can do something about them. They would demonstrate outside the Knesset or outside Mr. Netanyahu’s home, but they would not cause disruptions to normal traffic and activities in the general community and usually davka in our daati communities, whom they do not need to address. I’m fed up with them and their burning public property, even throwing a rock at a policeman. The garbage burning is a clear disregard for public property, wasting the money of the people for whom they try to raise donations for their institutions, wiping their feet ont he Torah and on the public. Pfui ! What kind of animals are these ?

    If these people try to tell me they are dedicated to Torah, I can only groan. They are no more dedicated to Torah than I am dedicated to climbing Mount Everest (I find mountain climbers irresponsible and despicable.)

    • Avi

      While I agree with your criticism of methods employed, I disagree with your assessment of Dov’s piece. You suggest that the demonstrations be taken where they would be best heard. Why doesn’t Dov do that? How many of those he opposes are reading Algemeiner?
      These articles and opinions are spread all over the internet and he makes it a point to alternate between publications so everyone gets a piece of his slanderous negativity.

  • Elazar Newman

    I agree with the Mr. Lipman that the behavior of Rabbi Auerbach and his pupils is a disgrace to “Torah” and to orthodox religion in general.
    I do NOT agree that those who “sincerely study Torah day and night” should be “respected and supported by the nation”.
    The Rambam has already stated quite clearly that studying “Tora”,while being supported by charity is a disgrace both to god and to the Tora.
    He also points out that there is absolutely no basis in the early Jewish literature for this strange and unnatural behavior.
    It is precisely this false ideal of “studying Tora day and night” which is the cause of this terrible phenomena where young men who could be productive to society and to themselves are confined to the Beit Midrash studying (in the best case scenario…) Rabbinical texts of an esoteric legal nature.(Which,by the way, should be called “The Talmud” or “The Gemarra” and not the INTENTIONALLY MISLEADING title-“Tora”!!!)
    Even if some disagree with the Rambam, shouldn’t his view be adopted just as in other matters in doubt,Jewish halacha safeguards itself by adopting the more “severe” view. In this case-this view demands that you should make sure you can support yourself(just like Hillel and the Rabbis of his period did) BEFORE you sit down to study “Tora”.

    • Avi

      Elazar, how do you or the writer know that Rabbi Auerbach instructed anyone to do anything? His Yeshiva is a very small building with a very modest grouyp of students – none of whom engage in burning garbage or blocking traffic. He does not waste time on public appearances. When, where and to whom was this alleged instruction given?

  • Alan

    While that comment attempts to appear reasoned and sober, the most cursory examination reveals that it is just a defense by some delegated haredi to defend haredi conduct at any cost…particularly the cost of truth. One needn’t look beyond the nonsensical and toxic claim that the Algemeiner is not a Jewish publication. This was not written by a “prudent” Jew at all.

  • Elisha Samuel

    Dear Friends,

    As an impartial observer and a discreet reader, I would objectively assess the above report & article as follows.

    If, as alleged in the article above, there’s a yeshiva student who visited a night club in Eilat wearing secular clothing, the alleged public demonstration is certainly NOT justified and NO Israeli Rosh Yeshiva or senior Orthodox Rabbi can ever oppose the police action taken against such a yeshiva student for breaking the laws, or maintain him in his yeshiva even for a minute. After all, the leading Rabbis are more concerned with the reputation the Divine Torah and its followers.

    So there appears to be something else that must have prompted the demonstration of the yeshiva students in support of this yeshiva boy who is reported here as allegedly having done something improper or not having behave properly.

    Apart from that, as per common-sense as well as Jewish Law (‘halacha’) one should ask for clarifications of the Jews against whom such a report and article is written before it is circulated and printed. This report harms the image of this yeshiva boy, his Rabbi who allegedly ordered the demonstration and all the yeshiva students who participated in it. Their defence should have been reported & published above. This is sadly lacking.

    Mr. Dov does not mention that he referred the matter to the persons concerned and affected by his slanderous article. So the report boils down to the grave sin of ‘lashon hara’ (defamation) and the repentance for this, if at all intended, is almost impossible. However an apology should be published by the writer and the publisher and owner of the magazine or web-site and all others responsible for the appearance of this article.

    We must note that the publishers of ‘Algemeiner’ and their web-site are not Jewish or belonging to religious Jews.

    But let’s assume for a moment that Mr. Dov and others did consult all the affected parties before they published this article and fairly did include their defences in the article. Still that single incident does NOT authorize Mr. Dov to generalize the alleged default and attribute a likewise pattern of behaviour to ALL the holy ‘Haredi’ Rabbis. This is another grave sin of ‘lashon hara’ committed for which there can be NO repentance but a well-known Haredi ‘posek’ (legislator Rabbi) should be consulted in the matter by Mr. Dov and the others in this regard because I am not a posek, nor a Rabbi but just an ordinary prudent Torah-observant Jew.

    • Jeff Zaron

      So pray do tell.what was the real reason for the protest. If the Holy rabbi’s had a good reason what was it. Why was it not articulated. Why is the real reason not know. Why as a member of the that community do you not know it. Before defaming Rabbi Lipman by calling him Mr Dov, perhaps you and the Haredi community should take some responsibility for not having articulated the so-called real reason for the demonstration.

    • Chaim shulevitzky

      I liked your response till I got to the end part. About repentance and asking rabbi. 11st of all it has nothing to do with anything, second: if one is to have bad impression of rabbis in general especially afyer reading an article like this, why would one think to ask a rabbi whether he could have repentance or not.

    • Joel Goldberg

      I was driving my son to the doctor that day, and found myself jammed in a line of traffic, with no exits either in front or behind. Eventually I resorted to crossing over the boulevard. I’m thankful that it wasn’t an emergency situation for my son.

      This kind of traffic disruption happens not infrequently in Beit Shemesh. The disruption is wrong, no consulting of the “other side” is necessary to determine that.