Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Principle of the Hesder Yeshivot

By Rabbi Yisrael Rozen
Dean of the Zomet Institute

In the Wake of the Funeral Procession
On Rosh Chodesh of the month of Iyar, Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein was called to the heavenly place of learning. Reb Aharon, as he was universally known, was a lion of a man who made Aliyah from the "Babylon" in America, bringing with him the Torah approach of the United States in the form of the methods of the "Rav" – his father-in-law, Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik, who raised the banner of involved academic Torah, the type of Orthodox Judaism in that land. Much has been written about Rabbi Lichtenstein in the press, and he has been crowned with many titles with respect to his traits, personality and ethics, and his world outlook. I have therefore decided to forego any attempt to add some more notes to his epitaph, and I will write today about one aspect of his written legacy – the Hesder yeshiva.
Three Ancestors
Reb Aharon left a legacy in the Har Etzion Hesder Yeshiva, along with its branches of offshoot yeshivot, of the Brisk style of learning, according to the traditions of Lita, which passed through the land of New York and was enriched by positive aspects of Western Culture. In this way he broadened and extended the labors of Rabbi Chaim Yaacov Goldvicht, who blended this Torah method with a Jerusalem-Chassidic approach in Kerem B'Yavneh, the first and the archetype of the Hesder Yeshivot.
A third type of Lita-style erudition in the study of the Talmud, which preceded the two mentioned above, was extant in "Merkaz Harav," in the form of the classic style of the yeshivot of Lita ("Volozhin"), with the added inspiration of the Torah of Eretz Yisrael and the concepts of the coming of the redemption.
These three yeshivot (with the fourth "archetype," Yeshivat Shaalavim) served asthe precursors of the Zionist yeshivot, and I venture to suggest that all the other yeshivot and batei Midrash can be viewed as derivatives based on these innovators.
Integrated Army Service
However, with respect to integrated army service within the framework of the Hesder yeshivot, combining Torah study and military skills, "I see a topsy-turvy world in front of me" (see Bava Batra 10b). As opposed to what might have been expected, Merkaz Harav has not fully accepted the integrated framework, in spite of the sanctity of the country and the army that are part and parcel of its approach. To this day this integrated approach is not an intimate part of its program. The students at Merkaz put on uniforms, but each student does so in his own time and following his own path – for short or full army service – but not as a standard program in the yeshiva.
As opposed to the spiritual path of Merkaz Harav, the "practical" approach of the Hesder was fully incorporated into Kerem B'Yavneh in the early sixties. The Rosh Yeshiva there accepted the outlook of his students, dedicated members of Bnei Akiva, that service in the IDF (including Nachal units) is the heart of showing loyalty to the State of Israel, and that there is an obligation to be fully integrated into the system. As far as I am concerned, this approach was accepted a priori (I was there myself!), recognizing the action as a challenge and an obligation of the first degree. After all, the ideology of integration is the heart of religious Zionism. The "vav" – "and" – of integration was transferred from the slogan "Torah and Labor" to a similar combination of "Torah and the army." Thus, the institution of the Hesder symbolized the extension of the religious settlement activities, which depended solely on this integration of goals.
Other Hesder Yeshivot were founded after the Six Day War – the Kotel, Golan, Har Etzion (and Shaalavim, which we mentioned above). They all followed the pattern of Kerem B'Yavneh, on the ideological basis of "Torah and..." as an ideal. And then Reb Aharon came and modified the approach somewhat, as far as I can see, on an intellectual level. In volume 7 of Techumin (5746-1986), we printed his essay, "This is the Essence of the Hesder." (It was also published in issue 100 of "Alon Shevut" in 5743.) This essay includes the following abstract – " A Hesder Yeshiva is the norm, a pure yeshiva is an anomaly." In this article there is no mention of the "vav of integration," rather it emphasizes the moral viewpoint that rejects standing off to one side, the need for "kindness," and the prohibition, "Do not stand by when your colleague's blood is in danger" [Vayikra 19:16], among other things. The nationalist obligation to "support Yisrael against an enemy who attacks them" [Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 5:1] is not prominently displayed in the article, and neither is the mitzva of conquering the land and taking possession of it, both of which serve as the basis of Rav Kook's support for settlement policies. Ethical and humanitarian considerations are what characterized all of the behavior and the outlook of Rabbi Lichtenstein, and he viewed the "essence of the Hesder" through the same prism.
In any case, Rabbi Lichtenstein saved his historical enthusiasm of the enterprise of the Hesder Yeshivot and his pride and excitement in the fact that he had been privileged to lead such a "creation" for the sentence he wrote as a summary of his essay: "When he stood with tears on the peak of the Mount of Olives with the depressing sight stretched out before his eyes and with the insight that 'the holier something is, the greater its destruction' (a quote from a letter that the Ramban wrote to his son), what would the Ramban have given in order to have served as the head of a Hesder Yeshiva? "

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