hesdertankFrom The Ideology of Hesder: The View from Yeshivat Har Etzion, by Harav Aharon Lichtenstein, Rosh Yeshiva:

…hesder provides a convenient framework for discharging two different – and to some extent conflicting – obligations. It enables a talmid, morally and psychologically, to salve both his religious and his national conscience, by sharing in the collective defense burden without cutting himself off from the matrix of Torah…

Properly understood, hesder poses more of a challenge than an opportunity; and in order to perceive it at its best we need to focus upon difficulty and even tension rather than upon convenience. Optimally, hesder does not merely provide a religious cocoon for young men fearful of being contaminated by the potentially secularizing influences of general army life…Hesder at its finest seeks to attract and develop bnei Torah who are profoundly motivated by the desire to become serious talmidei hachamim but who concurrently feel morally and religiously bound to help defend their people and their country; who, given the historical exigencies of their time and place, regard this dual commitment as both a privilege and duty; who, in comparison with their non-hesder confreres love not Torah less but Israel more. It provides a context within which students can focus upon enhancing their personal spiritual and intellectual growth while yet heeding the call to public service, and it thus enables them to maintain an integrated Jewish existence…

The case for hesder rests, then, upon several simple assumptions. First, during the formative years, a ben Torah should be firmly rooted in a preeminently Torah climate, this being crucially important both for his personal spiritual development and for the future of a nation in critical need of broadly based spiritual commitment and moral leadership. Second, the defense of Israel is an ethical and halachic imperative – be it because, as we believe, the birth of the state was a momentous historical event and its preservation of great spiritual significance or because, even failing that, the physical survival of its three million plus [as of 1998 – approximately four and a half million] Jewish inhabitants is at stake. Third, in light of the country's current military needs – and these should admittedly be reassessed periodically – yeshiva students should participate in its defense, both by undergoing basic and specialized training, thus becoming part of the reserves against the possibility, God forbid, of war, and by performing some actual service even during some period of uneasy peace…

With reference to hesder, specifically, there is, however, an additional problem: the conflict of values, life style, and sensibility between beit midrash and boot camp, hesdertentespecially in a predominantly secular army. The danger is not so much that students will lose their faith and become non-observant. On this score, yeshivot hesder have a track record at least as good as their immediate Eastern European predecessors. It is, rather, a problem of possible attrition – the loss of refinement and the dulling of moral and religious sensitivity which may result from exposure to the rougher aspects of a possibly dehumanizing and despiritualizing existence…Probably the greatest difficulty, however, concerns neither the practical ramification of the diffusion of effort nor the grappling with potentially inimical influences. It concerns the very essence of hesder: the maintenance of a tenuous moral and ideological balance between its two components…Like all yeshivot, a yeshivat hesder seeks to instill a love for Torah so profound and so pervasive as to render protracted detachment from it painful – and yet hesder demands precisely such an absence. It advocates patriotic national service even at some cost to personal development, and yet prescribes that students serve considerably less than their non-yeshiva peers. These apparent antinomies are the result of the basic attempt to reconcile conflicting claims and duties by striking a particular balance: one which should produce an aspiring talmid hacham who also serves, rather than a soldier who also learns…

Although stateless centuries have tended to obscure this fact – hesder has been the traditional Jewish way…what were the milieux of Moshe Rabbenu, of Yehoshua, of David, of Rabbi Akiva, as Hazal conceived and described them, but yeshivot hesder?…The halachic rationale for hesder rather rests upon a) the simple need for physical survival and b) the fact that military service is often the fullest manifestation of a far broader value: g'milut hasadim, the empathetic concern for others and action on their behalf…When, as in contemporary Israel, the greatest single hesed one can perform is helping to defend his fellows' very lives, the implications for yeshiva education should be obvious…

What I do wish to stress minimally, however, is the point that, for the aspiring talmid hacham, hesder is at least as legitimate a path as any other. It is, to my mind, a good deal more; but surely not less…Hence, within the context of our "station and its duties", hesder is, for bnei Torah, the imperative of the moment.
 
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