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bochurimBy Rabbi Moshe Grylak, Mishpacha

The other day I met a friend, an American businessman who made aliyah some years ago. In the course of our conversation, the subject of the campaign to induct yeshivah bochurim into the army came up. “You know,” he said to me, “people in America don’t really understand what all the fuss is about over here. Talmidei chachamim who have never been known for zealotry have been taking an extreme stance on the issue, talking about ‘gezeiros shmad, like in the days of Antiochus,’ calling for bochurim to leave Israel… This sort of talk hasn’t been heard in a long time. But when I go toNew York on business, the chareidi Jews I meet there don’t get what it’s all about.

“They all keep saying, ‘Must everyone sit and learn? Let them go to the army — what’s the big deal? Why are you making such a fuss about it?’ Maybe you could write something to explain it to them, Reb Moishe – I’m sure you have something to say.”

And so, my friend, here is my explanation:

In my humble opinion — and, I believe, in the opinion of gedolei Yisrael — what we have here is no less than an existential threat to the chareidi community in particular and the State of Israel in general. This is predicated on the deeply-held belief, rooted in the Torah, the Gemara, and the assurances of great Torah leaders of all generations, that Torah study literally shields the Jewish People from harm.

Of course, the secularists don’t believe that. The idea of a spiritual world concealed behind a veil of physical matter holds no appeal for them. Not only do they not believe it, they claim that we don’t really believe it, either. They say we’re making it up in order to further our own interests.

I heard this idea myself just two weeks ago, while participating in a wide-ranging Jewish forum made up of Jews of all stripes on the religious spectrum, from secular to Neturei Karta. A secular professor of some renown from Hebrew University was invited to speak to the group, which eventually turned into a debate on the subject of army service for yeshivah bochurim; and in a moment of anger the professor spluttered, “Your arguments are nothing but deceit.”

Bottom line: they refuse to face our sincere belief that the world exists in the merit of Torah study. But we know the truth of this, that if, chalilah, the sound of Torah should be silenced in Eretz Yisrael, this Land would be greatly endangered. To bring this belief into better focus, let us explore just a few out of a wealth of sources from Chazal and gedolei Yisrael throughout the ages.

pasuk in Tehillim says, “Our feet were standing in your gates, Jerusalem.,” and the Midrash explains, “Who caused our feet to remain standing in battle? The gates of Jerusalem, where we studied Torah” (Midrash Tehillim, 122).

Another source shows us just how serious this matter is. In Chullin 85b, it is told that Rabi Chiya had a crop of flax that was infested with worms. He asked Rebbi for advice, and Rebbi told him to soak the flax in water, and then shecht a bird and let its blood flow into the water. The worms will be repelled by the smell of the bird’s blood and go elsewhere. The Gemara recalls this story because it is relevant to a discussion of the requirement to cover the blood of the slaughtered bird. But a side question arises: how could it happen that Rabi Chiya’s flax became infested? There was a known tradition that from the day Rabi Chiya and his sons arrived from Bavel, thunder and lightning, storms, and earthquakes ceased, wine did not go sour, and flax was not infested. The Sages concluded that the merit of Rabi Chiya and his sons protected everyone but themselves, and the interested reader will find a discussion in the Gemara of the reasons why their Torah learning, which served as a protection for others, was not able to protect them.

But the Gemara’s basic premise is the uncontested belief that Torah learning protects the world, and particularly the Jewish People. Chazal add that a person who claims, “What good is the learning of thesetalmidei chachamim? They only do it for themselves,” is an apikoros. And for a more detailed explanation, a perusal of Rav Chaim of Volozhin’s Nefesh HaChaimshaar 4, will show what a deep and direct link there is between the wellbeing of the world, the Jewish People, and the level of our Torah study.

There is a fundamental Jewish belief that the entire world exists in the merit of those who engage in Torah learning. Just one year ago, one of America’s biggest philanthropists came to Rav Aharon Leib Steinman shlita and said he was willing to contribute millions of dollars if the yeshivos would change their approach to learning. Rav Steinman answered him resolutely, “You are forgetting that you are a millionaire due to those who learn Torah without deviating from the path. They are the ones who support you, not the other way around.” Was this just an offhand remark? No, it was an expression of this deeply held belief in the centrality of Torah in the life of the Jewish People. And this is the very issue being debated today.

After World War II, the Chazon Ish said that there were three gedolei Yisrael who were able to shield their cities from the Nazis as long as they were alive. In Vilna, the protector was Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky. Hitler’s forces conquered Vilna, but were pushed back by the Russian army. Yet when Rav Chaim Ozer passed away, the Nazis succeeded in re-conquering the city. The same happened inGrodno. As long as the great Rav Shimon Schkop was living, the Nazis couldn’t conquer Grodno, and similarly the town of  Baranovitch fell into Nazi hands only after the passing of Rav Baruch Ber Leibowitz.

As I write, I recall a story I heard from talmidim of the Chazon Ish some forty-five years ago, when I was collecting material for the biography Pe’er HaDor: the Chazon Ish was irate over the fact that, in order to spare him pain, his talmidim and family hid the facts from him about what was happening to the Jews of Europe under the Nazi reign of terror. When he learned the true extent of the disaster he blamed them for not informing him. His brother-in-law, Rav Shmuel Greineman, quotes him in his book on the Chafetz Chaim as saying that had he known, “Men nit gelozt” (We wouldn’t have let it happen).

What exactly the Chazon Ish meant by this remark, I cannot presume to say. But at the least, it indicates the strength of the Jewish belief in what Torah study can effect in this world.

Here is a story that I have told over before, but it’s worth mentioning again in our present context. I heard it from a chassidishe Jew, a prominent businessman who was a frequent visitor to Rav Moshe Feinstein’s house. Once while he was there, someone came in and reported that just outside the building, a Jewish boy riding a bicycle had fallen, hurt himself, and been taken to the hospital.

“It couldn’t be,” was Rav Moshe’s response. “Check the facts, and you’ll find that the boy isn’t Jewish.”

The storyteller protested, “But he was wearing a yarmulke!”

“No,” Rav Moshe insisted. “The boy is a non-Jew. He must have grabbed the yarmulke off the head of a Jewish boy.”

The facts were checked, and Rav Moshe was proved right. Naturally, people came crowding around to ask, “How did the Rav know?”

His answer was, “When I came to live here, I davened to HaKadosh Baruch Hu that even though my learning wasn’t enough to save all the Jews of America, it should at least save any Jew from coming to harm on my street. And that’s how I knew.”

Such is the power of Torah, and such is the strength of our belief in that power.


This is the struggle today in Eretz Yisrael. Our enemies never rest for a moment, and we cannot compromise on our belief in the power of Torah to afford protection, or on our insistence that decreasing the scope of Torah learning in Eretz Yisrael would be disastrous. Lessening Torah means magnifying that threat. We might not change the minds of the secularists, but those in our own camp can strengthen their belief in this principle, and support the struggle that is so crucial to our future. Eretz Yisrael without Torah is like a body without a soul.


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  1. This inquiry will be happening over and over from the frum Charedi kehilla to those in Israel. WHY? for many reasons, one being that HASBARA — explanations and public relations within the Charedi community is minus 10. If you can not get a message out that is sensible, accurate, Toras Hashem, no one is listening, hearing or caring.

  2. Sorry, but after reading the entire article I dont see where Rabbi Grylak answered the question he started with, “why is it gezerois shmad” when we have many chareidi gedolim supporting nachal chareidi for years???

    I think he totally missed the point. The real issue that the chutznikim don’t understand, is that over the past decades the army has proven itself in deliberately delineating young men and women from yiddishkeit, and as long as the secular goverment force their own standards of who should go to the army, then we are lost. Nachal Chareidi is for those who volunteer chose, they were not forced.

  3. How do you force someone to believe in something to his or her detriment? If I were to find 100 thousand people who believe that sleeping all day wrapped in fur was beneficial for society as a whole, would anyone in their right mind say that these believers are excused from their societal obligations as they are contributing in an alternative albeit non-tangible capacity?
    Is society responsible to just accept that?
    While we believe in torah and its benefits I don’t understand how we can force this ideal on others who don’t believe it?

    Anyone have any coherent arguments?
    I am all ears.

  4. Torah Torah Torah
    dont worry about the seculars. If it was up to me, everyone should move to america and learn in yeshivos in peace until Moshiach comes. WHy do we need to fight with the stupid seculars? For what? jUST come here and we;’ll be in peace

  5. What does this article have to do with A-rod? Did he or did he not do roids? I mean they claim he did it agaiun. Is it emes?

  6. Yasher koach to the yeshivos that stayed in Sderot and Netivot during the war in Gaza, sharing the protective merit of their Torah.

  7. R’ Grylak’s response was sincere and eloquent but too defensive.

    First,the only reason this perennial debate is up again [and again] is because for those who wish it is the “goose that keeps laying the golden egg.”

    Second, he left some questions unanswered,e.g. why do yeshiva students have to learn in their last years of their teens Let them do national service and learn after, say when they are closer to 30.

    Furthermore how come chareidim insist that the numbers cannot be with a limit? Torah can only protect when the numbers have no limits?

    The annual budget of Israel is upwards of 350 BILLION NIS.
    Some 11,000 Kollel families get 120 million shekel direct funding, when compiled to a total sum with indirect funding, it is approx. one billion NIS in total for the whole “charedi budget”(10+% of pop).

    The chareidi sector output to the state is exponentially in excess of that.

    The ratio vs. space available in the paratroopers brigade is 4:1,i.e. there are four guys applying for every possible combat position.

    On the lower end,in the Tank Division there is 1:7 applicants for every possible combat spot.

    The rest of the combat units are somewhere in between(with the IAF of course,even more selective)

    to be cont..

  8. And may I humbly add another point to your argument: Chazal say ‘Dvarim sheh yotsim min halev, nihnasim lelev’ – or in other words if someone doesn’t believe you, the bottom line is that you don’t really believe it yourself. If there are secular Jewish people out there who can claim that ‘we don’t really believe it’ there can only be one explanation – that WE DON’T REALLY BELIEVE IT!!

  9. R Grylak is So wrong on so many points….

    What he fails to grasp and what so many chareidim fail to get is that seculars just want to live their lives and hold no anmus at all towards charedim. Noone is trying to force a lifestyle on charedim, yet seculars feel pressured by chareidim.

    R Grylaks reasons are myopic at best.

  10. Time to put our money where our mouth is – move the Yeshivos to Sderot, Kiryat Shmoneh, and the other communities that live within rocket range and constant threat of terror.

  11. Wow. Rabbi Grylak is 100% right.
    Sorry anyone else who is a little confused.
    Mayb sort yourself out first before you post ridiculous comments knocking down the truth.