This past week Rabbi Eric H. Yoffe president of the Union for Reform Judaism, posted an article entitled “Hesder yeshiva, has it outlived its usefulness?”, in which he proposed putting an end to the Hesder Yeshiva program. Yoffe’s post is full of inconsistencies. His first claim is that Hesder students are,
“absurdly inefficient. Experts in military matters point out that it takes 10 months to properly train a good combat soldier; therefore, (considering that Hesder soldiers serve for a total of 16 months) the army gets only 6 months of productive service from hesder soldiers in combat units”.
It is unclear which “experts in military matters” Yoffe is referring to; certainly not a very good one, considering that it actually takes 6-8 months to train a combat soldier pending on the unit they are serving in, not 10.
“(Hesder students) generate resentment. Most Israelis, whether secular or religious, give three full years to army service, and inevitably they wonder why hesder participants should serve less than half of that time…(Hesder students) keep in place the walls of separation that divide Jew from Jew in the State of Israel.”
What Yoffe does not understand is that the one place where there is co-existence and a sense of harmony in Israeli society today is in the army. Sure, there are secular soldiers who continue to resent the fact that Hesder students have a shorter tour of duty (even though the entire five years that students are part of the Hesder program they are under the auspices of the army and as such, can be called up for a mission at any time during those years) but there are also many who have tremendous respect for the Hesder student’s commitment to both the Torah’s directives and to those of the army as well. This respect is mutual as there are many Yeshivot Hesder today which encourage their students to serve in mixed units together with secular soldiers, actively promoting tolerance while simultaneously sanctifying the name of Hashem by way of their exemplary behavior and wholehearted commitment to Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael.
This week I was privileged to deliver a shiur to a group of Hesder students temporarily stationed in the middle of the Judean desert (or in the middle of nowhere). Their assignment was to guard the combat gear and equipment of a commando unit while the commandos were conducting maneuvers, hardly a glorious mission. The camp where the young men are stationed has no generator, there is no electricity and as such the last two Shabbatot were spent in the dark; hardly pleasant conditions. Yet the army assigns Hesder students to these types of missions considering the shorter time they are serving, and considering that Hesder students are generally cooperative; another example of the collaboration that can exist between the army and its religiously observant soldiers.
Most significantly Rabbi Yoffe (who resides in NJ while dictating policy to the IDF) does not understand that the contribution the Hesder student makes cannot be measured quantitatively. The main voice of Zionist ideology in Israel today resounds from the halls of the Hesder Yeshivot because they infuse faith through the study of Torah and breed soldiers with resolve and purpose. These qualities guarantee the future of the Jewish homeland the perpetuation of the Jewish people.
The story of Hanukah honors the Rabbi and the soldier, the warrior and the Priest. Hanukah celebrates both the physical quantitative victory of a war and the spiritual miracle of the qualitative oil. Hanukah should help us appreciate the efforts and sacrifice that our present day warriors make, while at the same time it should illuminate the value of those who perpetuate the work of the High Priests through the study of Torah and their subservience to Hashem. Certainly this appreciation should be most obvious when these two institutions are combined. It would do us well to recognize and remember where the source of our miracles come from; if we do not, then we are no different then the rest of the armies in the world.