Friday, July 25, 2014

Bitachon and the IDF

It’s been a long time since anyone has posted on this site. I cannot speak for my colleagues but as far as I am concerned the primary purpose of this blog is (or at least was) to provide “rational” responses to Rabbi Slifkin’s arguments against mainstream Orthodox views. Unfortunately the Rationalist Judaism Blog is no longer academically based. The vast majority of the material is partisan in nature (Chareidi bashing seems to be the order of the day) and as such does not warrant a response from this blog.

Nonetheless, I cannot deny the fact that many of Rabbi Slifkin’s posts are a source of agmas nefesh to me. He consistently mischaracterizes the position of the Chareidi Jews in Israel and does everything in his power to portray them in a bad light. And while anti-Semitism is nothing new, it is particularly upsetting when it comes from within. In view of the current events in Israel, I decided to write something in defense of acheinu beis yisrael.

In his most recent post, Rabbi Slifkin bemoans a “disturbing anti-rationalist approach that is spreading in the current war”. He explains that there is an “extreme but pervasive anti-rationalist approach, which I was taught in yeshivah, that physical endeavor is of no real significance. Instead, it is simply a charade that we must go through in order for God to operate” and that “Following this approach, Iron Dome and the IDF soldiers are not really doing anything; it is just a charade that we have to go through - and which some people lose their lives for.”

He then goes on to revisit an old post quoting Dr. Martin Gordon’s critical comments of Rav Eliyahu Dessler’s approach to the concept of bitachon, ostensibly for the purpose of accounting for the “disturbing anti-rationalist approach” that the IDF is “not really doing anything”.

Before commenting on Rabbi Slifkin’s remarks, I’d like to note that we responded to Rabbi Slifkin’s initial post (April 2012) with a post of our own delineating, in part, Gordon’s erroneous assessment of the material in the Michtav.  

As far as Rabbi Slifkin’s comments, they amount to a gross oversimplification of the topic at hand. Yes, the IDF is preforming a necessary and indispensable task. Yes, we, all of us, all Jews throughout the world, owe them a debt of gratitude. Yes, we should pray for their welfare. And yet, what Rabbi Slifkin was taught in Yeshiva is entirely correct and is entirely consistent with the notions stated above. Amazingly enough, Rabbi Slifkin writes the very words that reconcile this whole dilemma yet he fails to see the resolution. He writes: “Instead, it is simply a charade that we must go through in order for God to operate”.

Hashem is the one who administrates the affairs of mankind. Every frum Jew accepts this principle. Hashem is the one that grants success to the soldiers. Every frum Jew understands this. But Hashem only grants success to those who make an hishtadlus. If there was no IDF, there is nothing to grant success to!

So yes, the IDF is really not “doing” anything. It is Hashem who is doing everything. But that doesn't mean that their endeavors are not necessary or that they do not possess significance.

When Shaul fell in battle against the Philistines, Dovid HaMelech delivered a eulogy. The first words that came out of his mouth were: “To teach the sons of Judah how to shoot a bow and arrow”! We need soldiers who are trained in the art of warfare. We need the “sons of Judah” to protect their people from surrounding nations. This is obvious! When Dovid went to war, he didn't wade into battle with a Tehilim under his arms. He engaged the enemy with a battle mace! And he was exceedingly efficient at his task. He leapt into action and killed 800 men in one fell swoop. 

But did Dovid attribute his success to his physical strength? Did he attribute it to his cunning mind? Did he attribute it to fearless nature? Did he attribute it to his strategic battle tactics? Oh no. Here’s what Dovid actually said: “For with You I attack a troop of soldiers, with your Name I leap over a wall”! Dovid attributed everything to Hashem. Not because he was practicing fake anava, chs’v. Rather, it is because he understood that everything that he possessed, everything that he was, everything that he accomplished was solely due to Hashem’s assistance. Ultimately it is Hashem who guides everything.

If some of the Chareidim in Israel speak disparagingly about the IDF, it is because unfortunately there is a war of ideology between the secular Army and the Religious right. Both sides speak disparagingly about each other.This is a fact of life in Israel. But this doesn't mean that the “Chareidi view” is that we don’t need an army or that the efforts of the IDF are insignificant.


Rabbi Slifkin is attempting to drive yet another wedge between the Chareidim and the rest of klal yisrael. My sincerest tefila is that his efforts meet with unmitigated failure.