When You Go To War

When You Go To War

There is a battle raging in Israel and sadly, it is between Ultra-Orthodox Jews and non-Ultra-Orthodox Jews. On the bright side, it is a battle that unifies many diverse communities. On the negative side, they are unified against one of our own.

In the last few weeks, the debate has reached new lows. This was documented here on Rav Zev Shandalov’s personal blog. He writes of death threats, violence, and more. There are many comments that could be made to this post. Sadly, the first one was not an apology or admission of guilt but a further accusation, After making an inaccurate accusation (with no reference or proof), one commentator contiues with: “We were deeply upset at the Russian government’s attempt some 120 years ago to conscript Jewish boys with the goal of Christianizing them, we should be similarly (if not equally upset) at the Jewish government’s attempt today to conscript Orthodox boys with the goal of secularizing them.”

I saw this and was immediately angered. He dares to compare Israel and our ongoing battle to live in this land with “the Russian government” of 120 years ago? I started to leave a comment and then decided to post it here as well.

In Response

As the mother of THREE soldiers – all of whom entered the army as religious young men, two of whom left the army as religious men and are now married to religious women and have, B”H children and one of whom is religious and sitting on one of Israel’s borders right now, I beg to differ with your simplistic and inaccurate post.

My oldest son was a commander in the artillery division. He was asked if he would agree to serve with women and answered that he was not. He went through basic training with other religious boys in his unit…was selected to become a commander and went through training there as well – his commanding officers and others in his unit were all male. He was never asked to break Shabbat except in situations that were clearly defined as “Pikuah Nefesh”. Today, he is an ambulance driver and yes, there are times he will take the ambulance on Shabbat…because we celebrate life over almost all other Halachot, including Shabbat.

After he finished the commander’s course, he was assigned to become a commander of new soldiers. At the last minute, his commanding officer came over and apologized. They had messed up and the unit to which my son would be assigned had female recruits in it. The army knew they’d made a mistake, apologized that there was no choice…and my son said, “no.”

His commanding officers apologized again and explained that my son had gone through all the training, it was too late. The new recruits were coming in on Sunday…this was Thursday. My son said, “No.” He called his Rav and his Rav said, “tell them no. If they don’t listen, call me.” My son went to his commanding officer and said, “No” again. The army pulled another commander, untrained, off of one position and assigned him the task, respecting my son’s right to practice his religious beliefs. When my son arrived back on base, his commanding officers apologized again and asked him what he wanted to do…and did their best to accomodate him.

In another case – same son – was on the border one time when a Beduoin officer came in and ordered training exercises for his unit on Shabbat. My son stood up, turned to his commanding officer and said, “we don’t do ‘training’ exercises on Shabbat.” Training exercises are not Pikuah Nefesh. The “exercises” were canceled immediately.

Third son is now in the army. He told me that if he or any of the yeshiva boys tell their commanding officers that something is not allowed, the officers accommodate. There is NO systematic attempt to secularize religious boys in the army – there are tremendous attempts to accommodate them.

What there is, sadly, is an attempt on the part of one community to suggest that their sons are more important than my son; that your son’s life is worth more, his prayers more holy, his learning to be understood that he is more devout. They aren’t. His isn’t. He isn’t.

In the book of Devarim, the laws of war are discussed. When you go to war….the Torah commands us…YOU…not – your neighbor’s son, or some other sucker you can get to go…when YOU go to war…well, my son has gone to war…twice. My sons have followed the Torah and you have NO right to suggest that you do the same when you hide behind inaccurate claims.

I have seen religious soldiers abused simply because they walked in a Haredi neighborhood. They were spat upon and called, “Nazis” – is this the kinder, gentler, more religious attitude you seek to protect by keeping these boys out of the army?

I have Haredi relatives and I see women working so hard while their husbands “sit and learn” all day (and get minimum wage jobs under the table where they can). The women are over-worked and exhausted; the men raised to think they are kings.

How dare you compare what the Russians did to what Israel is doing. Was Russia our land? This is our country – if you are not prepared to defend it, honestly – leave. We are here by the will of God, without quesiton, but it is God who has shown us the He blesses the hands and work of the IDF because without those blessings, uncountable miracles would not have saved our soldiers (and our communities) from thousands of rockets and hundreds of attacks.

What is also very sad about your comment is that you have ignored the main thrust of this article. You attempt to attack the army with baseless claims but ignore the hatred coming out of your community, the incitement. What they are practicing and what you are defending is not Halacha, it is not Judaism, it is NOT Torah and it is NOT God’s will. God told us what He wanted of us…

“When you go out to war against your enemies, and you see horse and chariot, a people more numerous than you, you shall not be afraid of them, for the Lord, your God is with you Who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”

And the Torah continues:

And the officers shall speak to the people, saying, What man is there who has built a new house and has not [yet] inaugurated it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the war, and another man inaugurate it.


And what man is there who has planted a vineyard, and has not [yet] redeemed it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the war, and another man redeem it.


And what man is there who has betrothed a woman and has not [yet] taken her? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the war, and another man take her.”


And the officers shall continue to speak to the people and say, “What man is there who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, that he should not cause the heart of his brothers to melt, as his heart.”


— Read the Torah…follow it. When YOU go out to war…The Torah is very clear…a man who has built a home, planted a vineyard, become betrothed…and cowards – these are the ones who are absolved from goinng to war. Not those who want to learn, not those who are worried about not eating kosher enough food.

Stop being cowards.


  1. Rabbi Ezriel Yellin

    As an Ultra-Orthodox rabbi, and the proud father of a soldier, I can say that the army is not bad. As part of the General Orders, my son is entitled to time to pray, kosher food, and learning days. If anything, his beliefs have strengthened by being in the army.
    Those who compare it with being in the Russian army 120 years ago have no idea what real life is all about. The army is not interested in secularizing anyone. The army has no time to do that. If your Haredi son goes into the army and comes out secular, the complaints should be directed to the place where the child spent the first 18 years of his life, not the most recent 2 and a half.
    I can understand the desire of the Haredi community to have an exemption from going to the army. And I agree with that. In fact, the ones who represent that ideal are the ones who were in the yeshivot learning during the time of the demonstration, despite the fact that it is “Passover Break”.

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