I’ve been asked by someone to explain why an American Jew should feel obligated to serve in the Israeli army, and I have discovered that it’s a real challenge to put something that has always been so clear in my heart into words, let alone written words. This is my attempt, or at least my first attempt, and I decided to answer in a blog.
Any obligation here can be divided into two. You have a religious obligation (in our case, a halachik one) and you have a moral obligation.
The halachik version is unfortunately the less convincing one, but that’s just the way halacha works. For every Rabbi who says it’s an obligation, there’s another who says it’s optional, and another who says it’s forbidden (In deference to the fact that I’m writing in English, I’m trying as hard as I can to avoid overly Jewish words, like assur and mutar. Some, however, like halachik, simply cannot be replaced.)
My argument of choice would be milchemet mitzvah. The Jewish nation, Israel, is under attack, we have to defend it. According to halacha, all who are able must fight. This includes Jews living in, and outside of Israel. The argument doesn’t really have to be more complicated than that.
Now, if you have some chareidi ultra-orthodox who gets smart with you and says that he’s participating in the fight by learning in yeshiva, and in the merit of his Torah study, God will help Israel, you can tell him two things.
First, where is this yeshiva that tells its boys to learn and pray in real partnership with the army? It seems to me that the only yeshivot that believe this are hesder ones, the ones who actually send boys off to the army to fight, in between three years of study.
The second thing that obligates him is Torah v’hishtalut (the concept that prayer is only effective when accompanied by physical effort). We see that Yaakov saw hishtadlut as being a real thing. He prepared to meet Esau in three ways; negotiations, Torah study/prayer, and actual military arrangements. He did not negotiate, pray, and pray.
On to the moral argument.
You can divide Jews into two groups (approximately, of course). Those who have made aliya (included in this group would be those who were born in Israel and didn’t leave) plus those who plan on making aliya; and those who don’t live in Israel and don’t plan on making aliya.
I don’t want to get into the whole making aliya vs not making aliya argument here. It’s long; longer than this, and it’s for another blog. If you don’t plan on making aliya, I’m not going to convince you to serve in the army (though there are plenty from this group who do, interestingly enough)
The simple moral argument is that when people are risking their lives for you; you have to return the same to them. Soldiers are part of a national collective; citizens have the ability to partake in commerce, benefit from entertainment, and otherwise live normal lives because the army is there to protect them. The cost of having an army is serving in one. And living in Israel without paying that price is theft, on a mortal scale.
These arguments (especially the halachik ones) are not comprehensive. They have all been said before, and the have all been rebutted. Their rebuttals have also been rebutted. This is only meant to be a general overview of the argument. Also, I’m not a Rabbi, so take the halachik stuff with the necessary grain of salt.