Shoftim: Justice for all

Shoftim: Justice for all

Is there an obligation to enlist in the Israeli army? The answer is quite clear in the Torah!

In this week’s portion, we learn of the various reasons that some men of military age are to be excused from fighting in a war. Three general categories are noted. First, someone who had prepared a new home but had not yet moved in. Second, someone who had planted a new vineyard but had not yet benefited from it. And third, someone who was engaged but had not yet married and consummated the marriage.

All three are excused, according to Rashi, because it would be especially tragic for them to be unable to fulfill their plans should they be killed in battle.

Then a fourth exemption is added: someone who is fearful and fainthearted. Why? Because fear is contagious and such a person could destroy the morale of the other soldiers and cause a mass panic (Ramban).

All of the above pertain exclusively to situations where the battle is specifically to expand the territory that B’nai Yisrael will control. When a war is a defensive one, no excuses are tolerated. In such cases, everyone is called into battle.

Note that no one is excused for reasons of studying Torah. Nor are any such exemptions when the two and one half tribes told Moses that they wished to remain in Trans Jordan where the grazing is better for their cattle. Moses asked them, “Shall your brothers go off to war and you sit here?” He did not tell them to sit and pray for their brothers, nor to work behind the scenes for any other reason. Instead, Moses let them know that they are expected to do their fair share of the fighting. Only then can they return and enjoy the land that they prefer.

Opening this week’s portion is a call for the appointment of judges (shoftim) and police (shotrim) so that justice can be applied to all people in all circumstances.

Today in Israel, a segment of the population feels that they all need to study Torah all day to protect Israel from its enemies. They feel that the laws that apply to others (the draft) are not applicable to them. At one time, when the “students” were small in number, it may have been a valid idea. But today, there are more than 50,000 – the number grows steadily – so-called “yeshiva students,” many of whom are not studying but simply dodging the draft. And, even those that study are far too numerous and impact negatively on the ability of the State of Israel to defend itself.

Many of the charedim choose this avenue because they do not believe that the State of Israel is a valid one because the Moshiach has not yet arrived. However, most of the yeshivot and their students have no problem accepting the stipends granted to them by the “illegitimate” state they so despise, stipends funded by the back-breaking taxes paid by the ordinary citizen of Israel.

The time has come for this element of society to follow the laws of the Torah (and the state) rather than to selectively choose what they follow and what they don’t. In fact, this is their complaint against the less observant: They don’t follow Torah law. It is time for the ultra-Orthodox to lead by example. Everyone is subject to the same rules, everyone is required to participate in defensive wars. That means even yeshiva students. Alternatively, if they choose not to fulfill their duty, they should be denied the stipends and left to fend for themselves economically, just as everyone else does. If this means that they leave Eretz Yisrael, so be it. It is their choice. “Tzedek tzedek tirdof,” says our parasha, “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” There is no justice in allowing an entire segment of the population to be excused from their responsibilities. The Torah makes that quite clear.