A Yeshiva Bochur Reacts to the “Equal Service Bill”

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 yeshivaBy Rafi Newman

The pervasive and incessant fear of the chareidi-religious, albeit unfounded and baseless, is openly visible.

When, for example, I get on a bus: I see fear in the people’s eyes; the men clench their fist, the women’s eyes widen with fear. They fear me – not because they know me. They fear my outward appearance, immediately discarding my non-intimidating and friendly smiling persona but rather immediately judging the contents of my character by the appearance of my clothes, panicking that I might at any given moment, scream, spit, revile, or perhaps perform an exorcism on their soul.

Do they secretly fear me because they really do believe that I am a “parasite,” will steal their money – or perhaps even use their blood for Matzoh? No, they simply fear me because I am different. I am a Jew who dresses as Jews did for centuries.

I am made to feel unwelcome, a stranger in a strange land. When I walk into Hebrew University’s library to find some rare Biblical text unavailable elsewhere, people actually ask me if I am lost or give me a look meaning “what am I doing here?”

Although I remain silent, my gut reaction is to pontificate:

I am a Jew who dresses as Jews did for centuries, believes as Jews believed for Millennia and devotes my life to the eternal Torah.

We have young boys less than ten years old quoting sages that survived the passage of time of two millennia. That is more of an accomplishment than an undergraduate degree.

When the Ambassador of the US, Dan Shapiro walks into the Mir yeshiva to experience what it is like, and is able to converse with students about their religious studies and feels welcome there, regardless if he is wearing a yarmulka or not, that is an accomplishment. That George W. Bush expressed his desire to visit the Mir is also an accomplishment.

At the age of 16, Yeshiva students acquire far more knowledge than a student attains in 3-4 years at university. At 20, they surpass a Ph.D., gauging this by the number of hours of classwork, numbers of books analyzed, and level of complexity of the material. The number of Jewish law treatises far exceeds the largest of law libraries and includes case law which spans millennia. A Jewish studies Ph.D. or Jewish philosophy Ph.D. represents far less than what the average 25 yr. old yeshiva bochur accomplishes.

These accomplishments are recognized, appreciated and supported by Jews worldwide, but the yeshivas do not take money without being concerned with the spiritual welfare of the benefactors. As an example, when a non-religious millionaire wanted to donate to the Mir Yeshiva, he gave the Rosh Yeshiva a signed blank check and told him to fill it out for whatever amount he desires and the millionaire will donate it. The Rosh yeshiva told him to write out $1000 and buy himself Tefillin.

The Mir Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Nossan Tsvi Finkel, may his memory be blessed, suffered terribly from Parkinson’s disease, but did not allow the disease to stop him from giving lectures at the Yeshiva and being available to learn with students, regardless of how severe the symptoms were. This is the resilience we idolize.

You see, you just don’t know us.

You don’t understand determination. You don’t understand that most yeshivas stay up all night Thursday nights and learn the night through or at the very least till 1:00 AM, getting up every morning of every day 6:30-7:00 AM. You just don’t know what it’s like studying 16 hours a day, every day, with unsatisfactory rations of food and sleep.

When I was 16 years old, in yeshiva, there was a boy who contracted a deadly virus. He was rushed to the hospital and according the doctor, he had less than 24 hours to live. Out of 120 students, 120 students stayed up all night, saying Tehillim (psamlms, ed.) and learning Torah for his recovery, which came to pass. People created shifts for more than a week, in which people would rotate and make sure they there was Torah learning going on at all hours of the day.

He was a new kid. Most people didn’t know him. But that didn’t matter to anyone. We did it because it was the right thing to do, no matter how hard it might be. That’s determination.

You see, you just don’t understand what our determination and resilience is about. It is not “we” the “old fashioned superstitious people” who need an education with useless facts or baseless theories that will never help us in life. We learn skills which we can apply to any facet of life, but most importantly to our dedication to Torah learning.

I personally know someone who happens to be a prodigy, and who only sleeps 2 hours a night- the travel time between his house and the Yeshiva. With the enormous lack of sleep, I still could not ever find a fault in the impeccable logic and reasoning behind his insightful lectures. But of course he would never advertise his accomplishments. Because that’s modesty.

We should take pride in our Torah learning and should take pride in our charity work. We do not need official National Service which pales in comparison to what we do every day of every month in every year throughout our lives. You don’t understand that when there are sick or poor people in our community, we don’t need to publicize our activities. We take care of our own, without forcing old, sick and disabled people to be manhandled by irresponsible young and reckless 18-year-olds.

Although laudable and far superior the other well-funded non-profits, we provide needed help without embarrassing the needy or humiliating them. Food boxes are left in front of poor families’ homes in the middle of the night so the neighbors would not know who it is who cannot afford to make a Shabbat meal. While being meticulous not to embarrass anyone especially those who need, we take no personal pride in what we do. We do it because it’s the right thing, no matter how much you will try to force us to believe differently.

We have no gargantuan propaganda machine proclaiming what we do that is exceptionally right because we take for granted that this righteousness and greatness is what is routinely expected by the Almighty.

We emulate Rav Shimon Bar Yochai who would rather live on paltry rations of a particular food from a particular tree and live in a cave for decades learning Torah rather being a “good citizen” and obeying the law of the land of his time which closed yeshivas and prohibited Torah learning.

You will not win this war against us. Don’t start one..

We see this “equal service” legislation as nothing short of a thinly veiled attempt to close all yeshivas and re-create our yeshiva boys in your own image. Proponents of the “equal service” bill will find that our resilience is still unbreakable.

Even if you choose to empty all yeshivas and put us all in jail, we will still be learning Torah in jail, but we will not be forced to be in the armed forces or work force. So we accept the looks on the buses, we’ll swallow the snarky comments at Hebrew U, but we will not accept your impositions on our lifestyle. We will not compromise our learning or our communal ties.

Do not mistake our silence for meekness. What we lack in public relations we make up for in strong-willed determination.

The writer is a 23 year old Yeshiva Student learning in the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He made aliya from the US in 1999 with his family.

This op-ed first appeared at Arutz Sheva.

{Matzav.com Israel}

55 COMMENTS

  1. Contrary to your ( wonderfully naive)outlook,many of the ones who dominate society(and to lesser extent most of middle age others) and form the public’s perception, understand you well better even than you yourself

  2. With all due respect – Jew haven’t dressed like this for centuries. Maybe for 30 years back starting in the 1980s, but look at any pictures from bochrim in Europe and NOONE is wearing black and white with black hats…

  3. Dear Yeshiva Bochur:

    You remark that “Even if you choose to empty all yeshivas and put us all in jail, we will still be learning Torah in jail, but we will not be forced to be in the armed forces or work force”.

    That’s fine with me.

    No, I don’t want you jailed.

    And just as you “can’t be forced”, neither can I.

    You can’t force me to pay for the support of you, your wife, and your children. You can’t force me to subsidize your arnona tax payments or your rides on Egged. You can’t force me to underwrite your tuitions.

  4. While there is much to discuss, but do you not leave the bais medrash to attend your friend’s chasunah? Would you not leave the beis medrash to take your children to a doctor? Since when is Talmud Torah docheh all other mitzvos?

  5. Very inspiring but I think the opening paragraphs are unnecessary and until someone actually insults you for your dress don’t assume that they hate you for it. They may actually have no opinion about that (believe it or not)

  6. by the way, in Jerusalem, I find that many secular people really do not mind the frum Yidden at all. In our mitchared neighbourhood we are frequently told by chilonim how nice it is that the religious people are coming and the neighbourhood is getting safer and cleaner.
    Not that all the seculars were so loving, but the general atmosphere is not so negative.

  7. 1)It is certainly not how we dressed for centuries, and we don’t really know was was the standard and style of dress that long ago, and it was variegated by diverse locale. Old Mir in Mir,as the famous photo shows, wore grey suits. If the local tailor had only green cloth, their standard would be green suits.

    2)If you have such moifesdik determination, to learn in jail, then you can learn in the army too, granted not 16 hours a day. And with such resilience and determination, no one of you should expect to be oiskesmadded by three years in the army.

    3 What percentage conscription constitutes “shutting down all the yeshivos”? Ten from a bais medrash of 200? 500 from Mir? Accusing the politicos of grandiose evil agendas is not an accurate or useful tool in pursuit of truth, and if your stuff is not emes la’amito, then you have an attitude issue. The folks on the bus are not afraid of you chitzonius, they are afraid of the attitude.

  8. “At 20, they surpass a Ph.D., gauging this by the number of hours of classwork, numbers of books analyzed, and level of complexity of the material. ”

    This is not true. While there have indeed been rare prodigies, it is almost unheard of for a 20 year old yeshiva student to have written a sefer comparable in complexity to an ordinary PhD dissertation.

    While I am sympathetic to my frum brothers and sisters who are adversely affected by the budget cuts and policy changes in Israel (and it should be noted that the budget cuts are affecting the dati yeshivot as well), unfounded exaggerations like this will do the cause no good whatsoever. The author has no idea what it takes to write a PhD dissertation and secular Israelis will catch this immediately. He should talk to one of the gedolim who HAVE written PhD dissertations, such as Rav Lichtenstein, and could improve his presentation.

  9. Dear Rafi,
    A beautiful letter, But……
    Please understand that all they see is people screaming at police, throwing stones, burning garbage, etc.
    I am a bit older then you with many married children that are sitting and learning and being supported by myself and some Mechutanim
    who “Share The Burden”. B”H We can afford it and are very proud of our children. My oldest child is married 15 years and still learning.
    It hurts me to see the chillul hashem that we are making by not being true Bnei Torah., and if I can understand them, then we are doing something very wrong. They don’t mean you and the many thousands of true Bnei Torah who are M’kadesh Shem Shomayim all day, every day. It is those few who are in the limelight who think it’s a Mitzva to be like Pinchos when they are behaving like Zimri. Maybe it’s time for people like you to get up and explain to our Zimri’s not to try to be like Pinchos, but perhaps like Ahron.
    Once again thank you for your thoughts, Alei V’hatzlech.
    May we all be Zocheh to the Shiva D’nachemta

  10. Absolutely FANTASTIC tome. I want to frame this and display this much needed perspective. The comments that disagree with the author are a perfect example of the lengths “haters” will reach to make their weak and fearful points no matter how unfounded.
    I always wondered why such obvious clamoring for self-validation takes the form of creating fault of others; such as these comments opposing the author.
    I am not a “Chariedi”, at least you wouldn’t peg me as such if you saw me at Zeemans or in The Kollel, but I am intellectually honest. We should all be honest and shed preconceptions.

  11. Charlie,

    “This is not true. While there have indeed been rare prodigies, it is almost unheard of for a 20 year old yeshiva student to have written a sefer comparable in complexity to an ordinary PhD dissertation.”

    Many have written chiddushei torah, and I know of at least one organization that reads many hundreds of such dissertations written by Yeshivleit each year and provides awards of significant sums to a goodly number of them. Your comment is utterly wrong, however it may be understandable based on which “yeshiva” YOU have been exposed to.

    And based on the comments of some of the so called PhDs, it is obvious that not much basic logic is required to obtain a PhD. VD”L

  12. Didnt make it all the way through.
    It rubbed me the wrong way that the author
    continues to draw correlation between secular education and Torah study. If he truly understood the value of Torah and that it is Chachmaso she Hakadosh Baruch Hu he would not mention the two in the same sentence let alone consistently measure the two side by side.

  13. Oh, please. “The men clench their fists”? “eyes widen with fear” when you get on the bus? Give me a break. I’m with you on chareidim (who are really learning) staying in the beis medrash, but those phrases are way out of line.

  14. Beautiful… Thank You. Well written and truthful – unlike some comments here by people who unfortunately, possibly by no fault of their own, also do not understand the Torah world (even if they think that they do).

  15. #13 i have to agree about why certain ppl regard us this way; however u failed to mention that it is because the true hilonim make it a point to publicize all these isolated incidents of the minority throwing rocks, screaming, spitting etc. The Jews responsible for those acts are a minority, but they make sure that it looks like the generality.
    This article is so well written and is emet. I wish you would send a copy to ALL israeli citizens and Jews worldwide.
    Those who criticized the article didn’t understand the message. When he speaks of the way we dressed, he means that we dress differently; we don’t follow fashion. Wtv the generation had adopted as an outfit for bnei Thora, that is what we wear because as jews, it is time u finally understand, we are different and we have an important role to play in Hachem’s master plan. Whoever thinks they are paying for our tuition or giving taxes or that we rely on them to survive simply doesn’t begin to understand the value of limoud Thora and yes every second counts!
    Kol hakavod to the author

  16. My “shtark” son just finished learning three seders a day in yeshiva, post-high school. Now he’s in the IDF in a program with eleven other hesder boys. He sees serving in the army as an obligation and he devotes the same dedication and seriousness that he has for learning now to protecting our nation. I am very proud of him, but I am a Jewish mother and I would rather he was in yeshiva safe and sound. If he has to spend an extra one, two, or three months in army service because YOU or YOUR friends do not serve, then I will not be moichel you for the time you stole from his learning.

  17. Dear Chani

    I see where you are coming from, I am a fourth generation Yerushalmy, B”h many of our children are married some still in Yeshiva, and I will proudly not allow my children to join the IDF even if we have to sit in Jail!!!

    You are frustrated for those who don’t think and act like you, nobody is steeling any time from your son, many Gedolim say that joining the IDF is prohibited by the Torah laws, so please don’t loose your cool as to whom you are and aren’t going to be Moichel, because nobody has taken away anything from your son.

    We all have a choice,
    just because you chose to have your “shtark” son just finished learning three Seders a day in yeshiva” still does not give you the right to force your views/opinions on us, who is us? the ones who are serving in the Army of Hashem dedicating out life’s to full time Torah learning.

    We never finish learning Torah.

    I can still see where you are coming from, remember Israel is a free country, everyone can chose to do as they desire.

    For four generations nobody in our family served the army, and I can promise you that this is the way it will continue to be till the arrival of Moshiach BS”D.

    I can still see where you are coming from, however we’re still very proud of our children that they will be in Bais Medresh/Yeshiva while others will be in the IDF or on vacation.

  18. Dear Chani

    I see where you are coming from, but with all due respect to your darling son, I am a fourth generation Yerushalmy, B”h many of our children are married some still in Yeshiva, and I will proudly not allow my children to join the IDF even if we have to sit in Jail!!!

    You are frustrated for those who don’t think and act like you, nobody is steeling any time from your son, many Gedolim say that joining the IDF is prohibited by the Torah laws, so please don’t loose your cool as to whom you are and aren’t going to be Moichel, because nobody has taken away anything from your son.

    We all have a choice,
    just because you chose to have your “shtark” son just finished learning three Seders a day in yeshiva” still does not give you the right to force your views/opinions on us, who is us? the ones who are serving in the Army of Hashem dedicating out life’s to full time Torah learning.

    We never finish learning Torah.

    I can still see where you are coming from, remember Israel is a free country, everyone can chose to do as they desire.

    For four generations nobody in our family served the army, and I can promise you that this is the way it will continue to be till the arrival of Moshiach BS”D.

    I can still see where you are coming from, however we’re still very proud of our children that they will be in Bais Medresh/Yeshiva while others will be in the IDF or on vacation.

  19. to chani.

    Please understand that many secular boys also don’t serve. Are you moichel them for ‘the time they stole form his learning?’ Your son sees serving the army as an obligation, and my son does not. If it is an obligation, no one can “steal” any learning from him.

  20. Something’s fishy here. If you spent all your time learning Gemara, how is it you write such competent English? Writing isn’t an ability that falls on your head out of Shomayim. You have to learn it, practice it, and get feedback. If all you’ve ever done is Gemara, I doubt that you wrote this yourself. And if you had a ghost-writer, you should admit it up front.

  21. #26 Chani

    Keep your mechila

    YOU (OR your son )chose to go to the army
    He chose to put his life at unnecessary risk
    You have a problem?Drop out

    We HAVE survived (without armies or) with those willing to voluntary sacrifice for what WE represent,
    and will continue to

    Hard core Settlers(many are my relatives) claim they sacrifice..
    and we consider what they’re doing grossly prohibited

    Kippa wearing Moshe Feiglin says this draft is unnecessary
    (Arik Sharon wrote that 54 ! years ago,before you were born!)

  22. #17 & #25

    ‘Stealing information from one person is called plagiarism

    Stealing information from many people is called
    ..research’

  23. If I had to guess — and I’m sure that others on this site would agree — this yeshiva bochur did not receive the “average” secular education that others who are at the Mir received. Indeed, I’m willing to bet that this bochur comes from what might be referred to as a “dati-leumi” family and at some point decided that Mir was a better approach for him. I say this because I DID go to these “yeshivish” schools, and I recognize that they do not provide sufficient education to write as the author did here. I’d welcome a response from the author in this regard.

  24. #6
    You’re paying ?

    There are the infamous 18 ‘FAMILIES’
    WHO CONTROL Israel’s economy

    In 2012, there were according to Forbes 13 billionares and 10,153 millionaires in Israel, an increase of more than 20% from 2009.

    My spouse worked on the books for 3 1/2 years as a Graphic Designer getting paid 1/6 of what she was making in Canada(and that was higher than the chareidi israelis in her office.

    My sister,a Physical Therapist,was getting a 1/10
    or less of what she could have received in the US

    The country (and you)have always leeched off the the (american &)chareidi public then have the gall..

  25. Everything is nice and dandy in your OP-ED except for the words “non religious” that’s exactly the problem. The Not yet frum population detests the fact that frum people look down at them and that in turn makes them do things that harm us.

  26. Oldtimer – Nothing is fishy. Rafi spent his chilhood growing up in the U.S. and then made Aliya with his family. One can be both articulate and belive in Daas Torah. Have you ever read Yonassan Rosenblum’s articles?

  27. To Chani,
    Congratulations for putting your son’s life in the hands of corrupt politicians. Think for a second what Olmert the Rasha did when he continued the Lebonan war for a few more days to make a political point eventhough he was negotiating a truce. Result: Over 30 soldiers killed FOR NOTHING. Chas Veshalom any harm should befall any soldier but think twice before you lecture us. Second, we were here way before the state. Our Gedolim were against it. They brought upon us the trouble, do not drag us in to support it. Therefore, it is clear that there is no obligation. Third, only a fool would not realize that they are drafting everyone to destroy their learning and yiras shomayim. If you decide to take that chance, do not deride everyone else or sees the truth. Hope you still feel the same when he comes back from the army. Excuse me for harsh tone, but i am sick and tired of being lectured.

  28. Why do so many posts have to be so negative?? We could spend every hour of the day “picking thigs apart” but this should not one of them. Take your jealousy and inferior issues to the non-frum sites.

  29. #30 – You just proved my point. In the US secular studies are required, including English composition. Most of the kinds of yeshivas whose graduates make aliyah went to such yeshivos. You can be articulate and believe in Daas Torah if you have a “secular” education in addition to Gemara.

    And Rabbi Rosenblum graduated from the University of Chicago and Yale Law School before going to Ohr Somayach. The University of Chicago only takes the best of the best, and you already know about Yale. When he became frum he brought his considerable talents and secular education with him, and uses them to promote the Chareidi viewpoint very ably.

  30. Please let me know how to leech of the govn’t i’m still looking foe it. As I see it I pay taxes (full arnona, btw, b/c my wife works) and don’t get much in return. I PAY for tutition, I PAY for decent kashrus, I PAY for decent rabonnim, yeshivas etc. for you see most of these are supproted by us and people like is who believe in our cause. I think it is WE who suppoprt YOU! LEECH!

  31. When a segment of society spends 70 years separate, its only natural that they will remain an unknown. When the only exposure tel Aviv has to black hats are bus incidents and media reports of spitting attacks and worse, this is what they will expect.

    When I started my job my less observant coworkers were intimidated, shocked that I was normal. The only solution is to act like we do in america, participating in society like normal people, the brothers and sisters we are, rather than the political opponents or agendas the media on both sides wants to position us as.

  32. I fear that this article is the result of growing up in an insular society. He makes assumptions about how the secular community views him and operates, as well as assumptions about his own community that are simply not true. These are the speeches given by many well meaning people who simply lack world experience or exposure. Our drum community is great, but we have so many challenges, much like the secular communities.

    What pains me most in this dialog is us versus them. Anyone with a true Torah education would be taking every one of these interactions as a kiruv opportunity. It’s what I do at work in Israel, where few of my colleagues have any Torah exposure. We need to love them, not make assumptions about them.

    How dare the author make assumptions about a blood libel? These are our brothers and sisters! These are the holy neshamos of klal yisrael!

  33. please get your self some real Torah advise as how to run your life, don’t try dragging us down together with you son.

    Going to the army is pure and genuine “Shmad” that’s where you son is heading to, think twice before doing something so stupid.

  34. from # 13 to # 23
    I am sorry I can’t follow you ( I am 60 ?)
    re: your point “true chilonim”
    I was very close to “true chilonim” my father a”h had a brother like that. Anyone that was witness to see the love and respect they had to each other was amazed. My father retired and lived in e”y. His day started at 3:30-4:00 from t’hilim to chok to a shiur and schachris his day was filled with learning and mitzvos until he went to bed. My uncle the “true chiloni” had a problem with hashem he was 10 years old when his father mother siblings uncles aunts cousins etc were wiped out. I think you get the picture… He could not understand how and why so called Bnei Torah would behave in such a manner. When he asked my Father a”h, my father would cry and say to him “why are you looking at the few misguided individuals”
    Perhaps if all behaved properly he might have come back to Hashem ???
    Dear # 23 my comment was not intended to criticize Rafi c”v my comment was merely to convey to him and all that we must behave properly under any situation and to M’kadesh Shem Shomayim, in all our actions. It is also very important that we not be afraid to tell the people who act improperly that Hashem does not approve nor does he want this behavior.
    Gut Shabbos

  35. Israel has 3 separate armies

    1.The professional

    2.The reserves (which is full of chareidi oriented and takes disporpotionate %
    of the casualties)

    3.The draft,which after a few months basic training,is for….

  36. #44

    Hadassa are the biggest shnorrers on the globe (billions!)
    who gave their first check?
    My Relative (of Macy`s fame)

    Who started the Ma’àriv newspaper?

    My relative (before it was “unloaded” from him by secular)

    My family built the state,and left it for us to tragically regret their handiwork.

    What did you and your family do?

  37. Only the evil pretend and the guileless and gullible (which is a sizable pop. of the planet) believe that the continuous battle is about army and working.
    It’s but a dense smokescreen for the most basic tenets of life and religion for all of us

    ‘David Ben-Gurion realized that any attempt to force the army issues’ would result, literally, in civil war. The government amended the draft law to exclude orthodox men who were learning full time in Yeshivos (rabbinical seminaries). However, none of these men would be permitted to work legally unless they did Army service. This act of spiteful cruelty was a typical outgrowth of the unbridled arrogance of Ben-Gurion and his ilk. The message to the Hareidi community was the following: If you don’t do it our way, we will strip you of your basic human dignity; that is to say, the ability to work and support oneself and one’s family. If you want to live your way of life you will be forced to live on either government handouts or charity. In other words, the Hareidim effectively became 2nd class citizens in the new State of Israel. After forcing the Hareidi community into this situation and forbidding them to work unless they toed the secular-Zionist line, they then accused them of being “parasites” because they didn’t work!

    The “parasite” canard along with the accusation that the Hareidim refuse to “share the burden” of serving in the army, has been used as a stick with which to beat the Hareidi community since the founding of the State of Israel. It has also been effectively used by secular ideologues to demonize Hareidim among non-observant Israelis.’

  38. Ever heard of the histadrut?

    [imagine a.f.l./c.i.o in cahoots with a pious al capone dominating a state]

    Ever heard of the mapai red card?

    When Weitzman visited in the mid 20s, he said the most impressive settlement was Bnei Brak

    The originalC settlers were all small farmers, shop keepers, and businessmen.

    They were chased out.

    By whom ?

    In the early ’80’s R’ Nachman Bulman started a frum anglo community in Migdal Emek with a ratio of 3 earner: 1 learner. He requested the secular and mizrachi parties for help. The hypocrites couldn’t then care less.

  39. In 1976, in Tradition Magazine ! ,there was an article that stated that if not for the demands of the State of Israel, hundreds of millions $ would have gone to yeshivos, Jewish education, communal institutions …

  40. Every yeshiva boy articulates for hours on end and this is far superior practice for the author’s woodcraft in this excellent piece.

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