The Moetzes discussed the draft problem from every angle with the Agudas Yisroel MKs, Yaakov Litzman, Meir Porush, Menachem Eliezer Moses and Yisroel Eichler, who presented an extensive report of the latest developments. The Moetzesdiscussed ways of dealing with the draft law while emphasizing that they would make no comprises, under any circumstances. At the end of the meeting, they approved the joint declaration rejecting the yeshiva draft. They also passed a motion deciding that, for the first time, the gedolim of the Moetzeswould plan a trip to the US and Europe to enlist the help of overseas Jews in the struggle.
They also plan to utilize the journey to apprise people of the desperate financial situation of Eretz Yisroel’syeshivos due to the government edicts.
MEETING OF MOETZES GEDOLEI HATORAH OF DEGEL HATORAH
The Degel Hatorah Moetzesmeeting in Bnei Brak was attended by about 100 of Eretz Yisroel’sleading roshei yeshiva.
Rav Chaim Feinstein, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Beis Yehuda, opened the Degel Hatorah meeting by saying that far from succumbing to the government’s persecution, bnei Torah should learn with even more devotion.
“Commenting on the verse, ‘Favor is false, beauty is vain, a G-d fearing woman shall be praised,’ the Gemara (Sanhedrin 20a) says that the end of the verse refers to the generation of Rebbi Yehudah b’Rebbi Ila’i, when six people would cover themselves with one tallis,” he said. “This posuk describes every time Torah students are subjected to material and spiritual pressure. It includes people who study Torah even when war is waged against the Torah and those who toil in Torah… It is clear to everyone that we are going through a war and that the government’s sole purpose is to eliminate Torah from Yisroel, chas veshalom… Our response is to fight the war of holiness against impurity with all our strength…and with mesirus nefesh, to purify ourselves with the holiness of Torah in order to be worthy of disseminating Torah with purity of heart…and to reach the level of ‘a G-d fearing woman, she shall be praised.’”
Afterwards, Rav Aviezer Piltz, rosh yeshiva ofYeshivas Toshiah Tifrach, took the podium. He said that there is no doubt that the Torah world will defeat its enemies with the spiritual power inherited from our forefathers, but we must be ready to make every sacrifice for Torah.
He began by asking why Yaakov wanted to reveal the time of the final redemption. This was to provide the Jews of future exiles with a feeling that Hashem’s Presence was with them throughout their exiles. They would also be able see the light at the end of the tunnel. When this privilege was denied to Yaakov, his sons declared, “Shema Yisroel…Hashem echod.” Belief in Hashem’s unity gives us the power to survive all tribulations, even when Hashem hides from us and we see no end in sight.
“In our time, the hester ponim continues,” he said. “Until now, we enjoyed a situation where no one bothered the yeshivas. It seemed as if all those who ever persecuted us throughout the generations were finally quiet. We thought Hashem felt that we were too weak to persevere in conditions such as the Inquisition dungeons our forefathers went through.
“But then came the nisayon that is testing us today. The wicked want to turn us back from Torah, threatening us with coercion and imprisonment. We should have made a hesped to mourn the huge extent to which secular Jews have deteriorated. Sixty years ago, the heads of government weren’t lamed vovniks, but they all understood that there’s a certain thing no one touches: the apple of the eye of Klal Yisroel. Something still remained with them from their forefathers… How the leaders have fallen since then!
“But on the other hand, Hashem is showing us that we still have the power to overcome such nisyonos. Despite our lowliness, we still have the strength and the same determination our forefathers had to fight the powers of evil, such as Communists and others who tried to destroy the Torah and its students. The trials are a sort of revelation of Hashem’s face, showing us that we still have strength…
“The inner essence of the Jew is what empowers Klal Yisroel in every generation. This is what gave our forefathers the strength to raise gedolei Yisroel. Even in Siberian forests, the Steipler and the Tchebiner Rov grew and flourished. Gedolei Yisroel grew under every circumstance. We have the power to be prepared for what comes. Not necessarily to eat bread with salt, but to be ready to eat bread with salt. Not necessarily to drink water in a measure, but to be ready to drink water in a measure.”
The next speaker, Rav Boruch Dov Povarsky, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ponovezh, said that because Torahis life, we are literally fighting for our lives.
“We must realize that we are fighting for our lives,” he said. “They want to kill us, all of us. This is what we have come here for and this is where we must make our stand. ‘A person will give all he has for his soul’(Iyov 2:4). Only someone who understands that words of Torah are ‘our lives and the length of our days’ will receive special heavenly strength, for a person is granted special powers to fight for his life.”
“The situation today is no less severe than the war against the Yevsektsii Jews of Communist Russia,” said the next speaker, Rav Emanuel Toledano, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas She’eiris Yosef. “They have limitless power. We must encourage the talmidim not to be enticed by them but to sit and learn. What is there for us to do? …Only to strengthen ourselves and strengthen ourselves more.”
A NATION THROUGH ITS TORAH
At this stage of the meeting, the crowd gave a thunderous welcome to Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, who proceeded to deliver the keynote address of the meeting.
“Rav Saadia Gaon said that our nation is only a nation because of its Torah,” he began. “Other nations are considered nations due to land and territory, but Klal Yisroel is a nation only through Torah. Without that, we are not a nation. In truth, in all generations, from Matan Torah until today, Klal Yisroel went on this path of ‘through its Torah.’ What is ‘through its Torah’? It is not enough for the Sefer Torah to lie in a cupboard. The whole of Klal Yisroel lived a life of Torah according to the Torah. They learned and taught Torah. This was the life of Klal Yisroel. Without Torah,there is no nation… Without learning Torah, without keeping the Torah, there is no nation. Only through Torah do we have life, a Torah of life, and so it was through all the generations.
“Now there are those who, chas veshalom,want to destroy Klal Yisroel, to destroy the Torah. If we do not study Torah, this means, chas veshalom, the destruction of Klal Yisroel. We must plead for Hashem’s mercy that they do not succeed in destroying Klal Yisroel, for we are a nation only through Torah… May all of Klal Yisroel merit to learn more and add to their yiras Shomayim, for this is the foundation of our lives. And through this may we merit the true geulah soon in our days, amein selah.”
WE ARE THE SONS OF ONE FATHER
Rav Shhteinman’s address was followed by a message read on his behalf by Rav Yigal Rosen,
rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ohr Yisroel.
“The words I am saying now are said with the agreement of the rosh yeshiva, as I heard him say yesterday,” he began. “We are in the midst of a war for our survival, for our souls, for our lives, for our eternal life. This war has its roots in the upper worlds. This war has continued for 3,500 years since the supernal minister of Eisov came to fight with Yaakov. The Chofetz Chaim says that he specially came to fight with Yaakov because he was the pillar of Torah… ‘A man wrestled with him until dawn.’ Chazal say in the Pesikta that dawn refers to the coming of Moshiach. This struggle goes on for thousands of years until Moshiach’s time.
“The mode of our struggle is the same as that of Yaakov. ‘A man wrestled with him.’ Rashi explains, ‘Like a person who grasps and hugs his fellow.’ The Kli Yokor explains that vayei’aveik is an expression of wrestle and hugging. The minister of Eisov came both to wrestle and to hug. He wanted to draw Yaakov close. This is always his way. His struggle is comprised of two elements, two opposites, because his goal is to uproot the world’s foundations, which can involve contradictions wherever one turns. This is what we find in our struggle today. On the one hand, they try to tempt us with all kinds of lures, while at the same time they struggle to remove our precious sons from the walls of the bais medrash and strike us from every direction.
“How should we fight this war? I am a wall, this is Torah, and my breasts are like towers, these are talmidei chachomim. The Torah is our wall. The war is about a wall. When there is a battle for a wall, one needs to strengthen it, to strengthen its flaws. The stronger the wall, the less the enemy can pierce within. During a battle for a wall, one doesn’t go outside to fight the enemy. That’s very dangerous. One needs to stay inside and strengthen the wall.
“Those responsible for this are the talmidei chachomim and the gedolei hador and all present here. We must do everything possible to prevent any breach so that not even one ben Torah leaves the bais medrash, chas veshalom. This is why we are ready to be moser nefesh. It will never happen… We will not compromise. The Torah world will retain its glory, grow and flourish.
“The earlier Tal Law was annulled over a year-and-a-half ago. Since then, there has been fear and trembling. We’ve become used to it, but it’s worth noting that we are like the person who experiences a miracle without noticing it. Boruch Hashem, for over a year-and-a-half, we’ve lost not one person. Boruch Hashem, whoever followed the instructions of Rav Shteinman and the Moetzeswasn’t harmed. Perhaps one shouldn’t say this publicly, but in a way, the situation of the past year-and-a-half has been even better than previous years. Whereas in previous years there were many problems regarding those who call themselves tichonistim [high school students who want to get deferments and study in yeshiva], at present, everything worked out with the army authorities.
“We must be very appreciative of the anonymous askonim who fought for every bochur whenever there were problems, as is inevitable with a large public, [and] prevented anything from happening. I have followed what happened and saw that there was not one case [of permanent enlistment]. There were very difficult cases where people were drafted into the army and saved afterwards. This is the extent of the huge siyata diShmaya involved here.
“Next Sunday, over 1,200 bochurim were supposed to be enlisted. This afternoon, we delayed it for four months and, with Hashem’s help, we’ll defer it further. Everything is working wonderfully. The vast majority of the public is following the instructions of our rabbonim…
“At this point I would like to appeal [to the secular public] with the permission of Rav Shteinman. The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 18b) says that the Romans once enacted a decree against learning Torah, circumcision, and Shabbos. Rebbi Yehuda ben Shimi and the chachomim took advice from a Roman noblewoman with whom the leaders of Rome used to consult, who told them, ‘Go and demonstrate at night.’ How did they demonstrate? They said to the Romans, ‘Are you not our brothers? Are we not the children of one father? Are we not children to one mother? How are we different from every other nation and tongue that you enact harsh edicts against us?’ The Romans annulled the decrees. By reaching back to the time of the avos, when Yaakov and Eisov were brothers, they succeeded in annulling the decree.
“We, too, plead and beg of those for whom we don’t need to go generations back to call our brothers. They are far closer to us. They use the term ‘brothers’ falsely [for their own purposes]. But we turn to them and say, ‘Are we not brothers, the sons of one father and one mother? What has changed? Does a brother persecute his sibling? Who makes edicts against his cousins?’ Even the non-Jews understood that this was incomprehensible. With Hashem’s help, we, too, will merit that they annul the edict.
“What we have to do is to strengthen the wall. Every emergence from within the walls of the sanctuary, the walls of the Bais Hamikdosh, is a mortal danger. Going out into the streets is a terrible hazard. Aside from wasting time from learning, it distracts the mind… Every time one goes out, one must first use the scales of daas Torah to decide if it is really permitted and really involved with principles of our life. Everything must be weighed in the scales vouchsafed only to the gedolei hador.
“If nothing else works, we also know and we have already proved it that there is a procedure of taking hundreds of thousands into the streets. We hope it won’t be necessary, but if it is necessary and Rav Shteinman gives his sanction, we won’t hold back from doing it.
“We once again ask those in positions of power to hear us and understand that this is not the way to behave with brothers. It is inconceivable to uproot Torah from Yisroel and destroy the merit that enables you to survive. Nothing will come to you from it.
“We hope that with Hashem’s help, even though this struggle is one that will go on until bi’as haMoshiach and the intensity of the struggle indicates that we are indeed in ikvesa diMeshicha, we still greatly hope that all struggles will be limited to Torah debates between the walls of the bais hamedrash that lead to love, and may Hashem send His help from His holy abode.”
Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ateres Yisroel, emphasized the importance of following gedolei Yisroel.
Rav Boruch Veisbeker, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Beis Matisyohu, spoke next, saying, “In all periods of world history, the only nations who fought to stop their Torah learning was Klal Yisroel. Even non-Jews understood that strength, power and might come from involvement in Torahlearning, from the power of Rebbi Akiva, who taught and established future generations. In earlier times and in later times too, when the Talmud was burned, in every place, the nations understood that the power of Klal Yisroel is Torah study. We are standing here now not because of decrees that come from without but…from within. We must strengthen ourselves and explain to all that they are cutting the branch upon which they are sitting.”
Closing words were delivered by Rav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Chevron, who also read the mutual agreement of the Moetzesof Degel HaTorah and Agudas Yisroel. It began with the promise that “Hashem will not abandon His nation and His inheritance He will not desert.”
“The hearts of G-d fearing Jews are distressed and worried at the intent to inflict the draft edict on bachurei yeshivos and avreichei kollelim who toil in Torah, making it their occupation, and to uproot them from the bais medrash,” it continued. “The place of Torah learners is in the tents of Torah and no one has the right to uproot them from their place and threaten our very right to exist in the Holy Land. Certainly, no one has the right to draft them and force them into an army framework whose environment is a great spiritual hazard and the opposite of their pure chinuch and the faithful toil of their lives.
“We are fulfilling the mission of those who preceded us, to guard Torah learners at all costs. We forcefully protest against the plot to force people whose occupation is Torah to leave the benches of the bais medrash and join frameworks that are likely to alter the character of those who fear and tremble before Hashem’s word, while persecuting them with economic or criminal penalties so they should not continue learning Torah, and to cause, chas veshalom, that Torah be cut off from Yisroel.
“Woe to us that part of the Jewish people have reached a low state that never existed in previous generations, that Jews persecute Jews in the Holy Land for their desire to study Torah and devote themselves to Torah study, and seek to stop them with a draft edict – something which, if it materializes as they want, will lead to terrible chillul Hashem and make a stain and accusation against the Jewish people, for those who wreck and destroy you shall come from your midst (Yeshayahu 49:17).
“We once again appeal to the government: Please do not do this evil thing and do not allow those who persecute religion to achieve their objectives.
“To the talmidim of the holy yeshivos and the avreichei kollelim who make Torah their occupation, we call out in love: Sanctify the name of heaven. Fortunate are you that you are being persecuted for learning Torah. Stand your ground in power, strength and resolution and do not submit an inch to those who would separate you from the source of your lives. ‘The eternity of Yisroel will not falter’(Shmuel I 15:29), and through the merit of your Torah and the public tefillos for your cause you will merit saving and redemption and much heavenly mercy.
“We are certain that ‘edicts are eventually annulled’ (Kesubos 3b), while ‘Torah protects and heals’ (Sukkah 21a). Hashem will not abandon His nation and His inheritance He will not desert. We hereby appeal to the Creator to speedily favor us with salvation and mercy. May we merit the revelation of His glory and the flourishing of Torah and yirah, and the coming of the righteous goel soon, in our days.”
To wrap up the evening, the Moetzesissued a series of decisions stating that the yeshiva world defies the government’s attempts to draft bnei Torah and would not cooperate in any way.
First, the decision document emphasized that “from the days of our forefathers, they were never without yeshivos.” In all exiles, this is what sustained the Jewish people and their identity. Wherever there were no yeshivos, Jewish life perished.
Second, the document said that Torah chinuch and the opportunity to reach greatness in Torah is the yearning of every Torah Jew. “The edict to remove even one bochur from the bais medrash or one avreich for whom Torah is his occupation is like an edict to remove them from the source of life,” and no compromise is possible.
Third, the list of decisions continued, even non-Jewish nations usually allowed Jews to study Torah, and when they didn’t, our forefathers were moser nefesh to defy them, as Rebbi Akiva did by gathering groups of people to study Torah when the Romans outlawed it (Brachos 61b).
Fourth: “We thereby appeal to the government authorities: ‘Do not touch My anointed.’ Do not destroy our inheritance and alter our spiritual link with past generations. Know that the terrible edicts with the goal of sending bnei yeshivos and avreichei kollelim to various army frameworks…are a mortal blow to the foundation of our existence… We cannot agree to even some of them under any circumstances.”
Fifth, “We declare that we will stand like a powerful wall against any attempts or enticements, whether promises of various benefits or threats of punishment or anything else, whose purpose is to cut off our sons from the benches of the bais medrash. This will never happen. We will go in the path of Torahand establish legions of bnei Torah and talmidei chachomim, for the Torah is our life and the length of our days.”
Sixth, the document called upon bnei yeshivos to “stand firm against all bitters trials that may come upon you, and fortify yourselves with the Torah by adding more diligence and hasmadah to your Torah studies and removing all distractions, such as the various communication devices that confuse a person and destroy his devotion to Torah. ‘Whoever accepts upon himself the yoke of Torah will have the yoke of authority and a livelihood removed from him.’”