With Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzma'ut this week, our thoughts naturally dwell on the State of Israel and its army. Before we get into things, let me switch from the editorial WE to the personal first-person singular. I must say that the following does not necessarily reflect OU policy, but I would hope and pray that it is close. I also have to say that the following might rub some TTreaders the wrong way, but I hope and pray that it will be taken seriously and given serious thought.
When it comes to Medinat Yisrael - particularly celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut and thanking G-d for the State (which are not necessarily the same thing), we have to separate two issues. The principle and the details. Let's mention the details first, assuming (which is a big assumption) that one agrees in principle that we owe a debt of gratitude to G-d for the establishment of the State of Israel. Then the questions of Hallel yes or no, with or without a bracha, P'sukei d'Zimra of Yom Tov or not, Tachanun or not, Lam'natzei'ach or not, reading from Yeshayahu 10-12 or not, shaving in honor of the day or not, suspension of other S'fira practices or not, and a whole bunch of other issues, yes or no. However strongly one feels about any of these details - and many of us do, on both sides of each item, the basic agreement about the principle allows one to argue his side (backed up by reliable p'sak) and, perhaps, be reasonable about other opinions.
But... when it comes to the principle, here is the real problem. And here is the sharp personal feeling I referred to earlier. I believe, with all my heart, that an observant Jew who does not feel that we need to thank G-d for the State of Israel - with all of its shortcomings and problems, is holding back the Geula Sh'leima process. I picture G-d's saying to Himself (so to speak), let Me give them a major step on the road to the Complete Geula and see how they handle it. Good, some of the people say and mean ZEH HAYOM ASA HASHEM... This is a day that G-d made; let us rejoice. Good, some have a Seuda of Gratitude in honor of the establishment of the State. But what's wrong with the others - don't they realize that things happen in stages and that this stage is a big one? Don't they see the serious beginning and progress of the Ingathering of the Exiles? Don't they appreciate the State for Shabbat being the national day of rest and for Kashrut being the norm rather than the exception? And don't they see the unbelievable strides in Torah education and in the broad adherence to Jewish Tradition, even if full observance still has a long way to go? Do they not see the half-full cup? Is that not enough to say thank you and work for more? As Rabbi Gold is fond of saying: They bless G-d for the first of the season watermelon, how come they don't bless Him for the Medina?
This, then, is much more than a difference of opinion. It is a matter of principle. A very significant principle.
On the other matter of the IDF... I believe, with all my heart, that there should not be exemptions for Torah study. From the Torah we learn that for a MILCHEMET R'SHUT, an optional, non-essential war, there are several exemptions allowed. These include a person who has built a home and has not yet lived in it, a person who planted a vineyard but has not yet had a yield from it, person who has betrothed a woman but has not yet married her... and one who is afraid (different opinions on this, but most interesting is one who is afraid because he does not keep mitzvot properly, to put it mildly)... For a MILCHEMET MITZVA, an obligatory war - and this includes a defensive war in which the survival of the people is at stake - a Chatan joins the fighting even from his Chupa, etc. And the Torah student leaves the Beit Midrash. There is no doubt that we are in a situation of Milchemet Mitzva with enemies within Eretz Yisrael, neighboring Israel, and in other countries within missile range.
The first yeshiva student - perhaps the most significant one ever - was Yehoshua bin Nun. The Torah tells us that he was a fulltime student - he never left the Tent. Yet it was him that G-d instructed Moshe to call upon to form the army to fight against Amalek. And that was the beginning of a long military career for him. Remember though, that it was Yehoshua who received Torah from Moshe and transmitted it to his generation and to the further generations of the Z'keinim (Shoftim). Yehoshua is a major link in the entire Chain of Tradition.
With Hesder and other religious army service arrangements, and Nachal Chareidi, there are different options for the religious prospective soldier. And the more religious people who join the army, the better conditions get for the religious soldier. And there are many good reasons for all girls to be required to perform National Service of one kind or another.
But there is another powerful factor to add to the picture - with the same conclusion. The perception of the general population who do army service and reserve duty for many years, is that much of the Chareidi community does not carry its weight in defense of this country. Many feel that they have larger burdens of milu'im than they would if more religious Jews would serve in the army. Reserve duty often disrupts family life and one's business - many feel that their reserve time would be reduced and more fairly distributed if more people would serve in the army. This perception causes a lowering of the esteem for Torah and religious Jews in the eyes of the less-religious and non-religious population. This is one of the definitions of Chilul HaShem.
Bottom line, it is the right thing to do for an eligible fellow, to serve in the army in some framework. And it will also be a Kiddush HaShem (or at least, alleviate a possible Chilul HaShem). Here's the real bottom line: May it be G-d's Will, that just as we have been privileged to the beginning of the Redemption, so may we merit hearing the sound of the Shofar of Mashiach, speedily in our time.