Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Does Talmud Torah Really offer physical protection?

Rabbi Slifkin has an interesting discussion on an article in Mishpacha Magazine on why Yeshiva Students should be exempt from army service.

The article in Mishpacha is not only poorly written, based on false history, and mis-represents Jewish sources, but its logic is faulty.

The article states that during the Shoah, there were many Talmedei Chachamim who managed to protect their cities with their Torah:

In Vilna, the protector was Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky. Hitler’s forces conquered Vilna, but were pushed back by the Russian army. Yet when Rav Chaim Ozer passed away, the Nazis succeeded in re-conquering the city. The same happened in Grodno. As long as the great Rav Shimon Schkop was living, the Nazis couldn’t conquer Grodno, and similarly the town of  Baranovitch fell into Nazi hands only after the passing of Rav Baruch Ber Leibowitz.
First of all, the historical accuracy of these stories has a lot to be desired (look up the history of Vilna, Grodno, or Baranovitch during World War 2). But for argument's sake, lets assume that these stories are true - that these outstanding Talmedei Chachamim were able to protect the cities where they lived while they were are still alive.
What about the thousands of towns and Yeshivot that were completely destroyed during the Churban of European Jewry? Not only entire Yeshivot were wiped out, but entire traditions of Talmud learning were destroyed. Are we to assume that the bochrim and Rabbanim in those Yeshivot were only second-rate Talmedei Chachamim? Are we to assume that they weren't really learning Torah, or that that Torah they were learning is somehow flawed?
Does Rabbi Grylak believe that Talmedei Chachamim like Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, or the thousands of other Rabbis and Chassdic Rebbes that were murdered by the Nazis were less great than Rabbi Grodzonsky, Rabbi Ozer, or Rabbi Leibowitz.


It seems that if there was protection of cities during the Shoah, it wasn't because of the large numbers of men learning in Kollel, rather it was a few individuals who were outstanding in their learning in spite of their difficult surroundings.

If we were to accept the premise of Rabbi Grylak's article, the logical thing would be to identify the handful of Talmedei Chachamim who are able to offer that type of spiritual protection, move them to a small Yeshiva in the towns and cities in the most danger, and any Rabbi or Kollel guy who does not feel that he's greater than Rav Elchonon or any of the other Rabbis who were perished in the Shoah should be happy to serve in the army - at least they can protect the country with a gun, if not with their learning.


2 comments:

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

If you're looking for historical accuracy or honest assessments then reading Mishpachah is the wrong place to check. This article is a tremendous insult to all the truly great and pious people who died because the premise simply wasn't true.
And besides, if this is true then the next time war threatens Israel all the so-called "talmidei chachamim" should be immediately deployed to the borders and areas highly likely to be targeted. But instead they'll run in the other direction. What does that say?

Michael Sedley said...

It's not that I'm looking for historical accuracy or logic in Mishpacha magazine, it's that I'm worried that Israel's security policy (i.e. who should serve in the army) is partially based on a few stories that never happened and illogical conclusions that are drawn from them.