Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Practically Speaking, Torah Protects

Rabbi Slifkin's personal disapproval of the Chareidi attitude to the IDF is well-known to his readers and has been extensively documented over the past two years in his numerous posts on this topic. A central subject in his writings is the Charedi claim that limud HaTorah provides protection, a claim which he seems particularly bent on refuting. As we’ve mentioned in the previous post on this topic entitled Bitachon and the IDF, for the most part we have ignored his writings due to the fact that his posts have long ago ceased being academic in nature. Unfortunately, his latest post on this topic – Practically Speaking, Torah Does NOT Protect – is exceptionally egregious in its siluf (distortion) of Chazal’s idea. Something should be said to address the issue.

Rabbi Slifkin asserts: 
There is no unequivocal claim in the Gemara that someone learning Torah receives protection from being killed by a terrorist… It's just as well that the Gemara does not make any such claim, because such a claim is quite clearly not true. 
The only thing “quite clearly not true” is his assertion. Ironically, his post appeared on November 16, the very day that the world was learning Sotah daf 21 in Daf Yomi. The Gemara compares the learning of Torah to light. Just as light protects the world, so too does the learning of Torah. In fact, the Gemara specifically goes on to provide a mashal of how the Torah protects an individual from listim, robbers (read: terrorists)!  This ma’amar Chazal alone serves to defeat Rabbi Slifkin’s thesis. Nevertheless, let’s spend some time analyzing some of the more salient points in his post.   

Rabbi Slifkin asks, rhetorically: 
"Torah scholars do not need protection"? We saw the terrible tragedy of the Torah scholars who were massacred in Har Nof… "Someone on their way to do a mitzvah (shaliach mitzvah) cannot be harmed"? Some of the stabbing victims of the last few weeks were on their way to daven or to give shiurim. "When you're learning Torah, you can't be harmed"? We saw otherwise in the tragedy a few years ago at Mercaz HaRav. 
Let’s conduct an experiment. Let’s repeat Rabbi Slifkin’s argument, but instead of Torah, let’s substitute, li’havdil, the IDF, with the objective of demonstrating that “Practically Speaking, the IDF Does NOT Protect.” Here’s the way the argument would read.   
It's just as well that the State of Israel does not make the claim that the IDF provides protection for the people of Israel, because such a claim is quite clearly not true. ‘The people of Israel are protected by the IDF'? We saw the terrible tragedy in Har Nof. 'People in Israel who are travelling on the road are protected by the IDF from Arab terrorists'?  What about the stabbing victims of the last few weeks. 'If you live in Israel, you are protected by the IDF'? What about the tragedy a few years ago at Mercaz HaRav? 
The argument is clearly absurd. Reasonable people do not consider the cited cases as evidence that the IDF does not provide practical protection for the people of Israel.  True, sometimes terrorists slip through despite their efforts. But does this render the assertion that the IDF protects Israeli citizens "not unequivocal," or only true "in some abstract or hyper-qualified sense, but clearly not true in any practical sense today"? Does it lead to "the bottom line that there is no practical truth or ramifications" for the assertion that the IDF protects Israeli citizens? Obviously not.

And just as obviously, when Chazal say that Torah protects, they naturally do not mean that Torah is a 100% barrier against any harm. Only a fool (or a person with an agenda) understands Chazal that way. Chazal, who were painfully aware of the death of almost every talmid chacham in Eretz Yisroel by the Romans in the war of Beitar, knew that Torah does not provide protection unconditionally.

Anyone with even a modicum of theological sophistication understands that it is not the Torah itself which provides protection but rather Hashem who provides protection in the merit of the Torah. Obviously there may be additional conditions and considerations that come into play. Any rational claim that "x protects against something" is not meant to guarantee that “x” is the only factor in determining the outcome. The only logical way to understand Chazal is that Torah does indeed provide protection but sometimes Hashem decides that there are overriding considerations which necessitate an ostensibly harmful result that would normally be shielded against by the merit of the Torah.

Rabbi Slifkin writes: 
Now, many people, even in the charedi world, realize this, at least to some degree. That's why, since the stabbings began, many charedim have been learning self-defense, buying pepper spray, and requesting increased army protection. 
But the reason they do this is not because they "realize to some degree" that Torah learning is irrelevant in providing protection. It's the simple matter of combining emunah and bitachon with hishtadlus. To my mind, everyone in Israel should learn self-defence. When Shaul fell in battle, Dovid eulogized him. The first thing he mentioned is that we need to teach our boys self-defense! Dovid is the paragon of emunah and bitachon in Hashem yet he understood the importance of physical hishtadlus. Bitachon is not a stira to hishtadlus (as anyone with a basic understanding of hashkafa understands). Please see this post for further elucidation.

This concludes our response to Rabbi Slifkin's assertion that "There is no unequivocal claim in the Gemara that someone learning Torah receives protection from being killed by a terrorist". As we have seen from a number of quoted ma'amarei Chazal, his claim is patently false.

In the following post we will deal with the spiritual ramifications of maintaining the view that "practically speaking, Torah does not provide any physical protection" 


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