Talmidei Chachamim don't need protection: Does this provide a basis for draft exemptions for yeshiva students?
The Gemara in Bava Basra 7b discusses the need for building walls around a settlement. Since walls are for communal protection, all residents have to share in the cost of erecting them. However, the Gemara rules that Torah scholars are exempt from this expense, since they are protected by virtue of the Torah they learn. This is quoted l'halacha in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 243.
The question that we need to ask is does this provide a basis for draft exemptions for yeshiva students?
In the past I have posted about this very issue. See the following posts:
Torah scholars don't need protection - does this apply now during a war?
When does תלמידי חכמים אינם צריכים שמירה not apply?
Yeshivas are moving north out of danger, what about the protection of Torah learning
Here is a summary of the main points of those posts.
R' Zevin in a famous essay says writes the following.
When actual lives are at stake, may we rely on miracles? In 1929 at Hebron... didn't young students of the yeshiva, whose holiness shone like stars in the sky, fall before the malicious enemy? Please, did these martyrs need protection or not?... If you understand that the scholars don't need protection in relatively peaceful times and are exempt from building the protective walls, what consequence has this when compared to a life-and-death struggle, a war which is a mitzvah and in which all are obligated? The defense authorities ordered everyone to cover all windows as protection against shattering glass in case of an air raid. Would anyone think that some rabbis will not do so, claiming, "Rabbis do not need protection?" ...Why did rabbis leave areas under enemy fire along with the rest of the general population? Why did they not rely on this maxim?
R' Aharon Lichtenstein wrote:
It may be stated... that such a claim (that since rabbis "don't need protection" they should be exempt from military service) raises a very serious moral issue. Can anyone whose life is not otherwise patterned after this degree of trust and bitahon argues for exemption on this ground? Is it possible to worry about one's economic future - in evident disregard of Rabbi Eliezer's statement that "whoever has bread in his basket and says 'What shall I eat tomorrow?' is but of little faith" - and yet not enter the army because one is presumably safe without it?
I saw the this in a Charedi publication. The following interesting halachic question came up. There was a wave of burglaries in a particular Charedi neighborhood so the residents decided to hire a private security company. However, then the question of how to apportion the costs came up. Since the Gemara says that תלמידי חכמים אינם צריכים שמירה and the majority of the people in the neighborhood sit and learn in kollel (and presumably have the status of Talmidei Chachamim) who should pay?
R' Elyashiv answered as follows:
The principle of תלמידי חכמים אינם צריכים שמירה only applies in a normal situation, before there is a rash of burglaries. However, now that there already was a rash of burglaries it would be considered a נס for the talmid chacham not to be harmed. Therefore the principle of תלמידי חכמים אינם צריכים שמירה does not apply and everyone has to pay equally for the security company.
If תלמידי חכמים אינם צריכים שמירה doesn't apply to a rash of burglaries then how much more so it doesn't apply to a situation of war.
Last but not least the Charedi Yeshivas themselves don't believe this. During the Cast Lead operation in 2009 many of the Charedi yeshivas (Grodna, Petersburg,Belz,Ger) in the South (Ashdod and other places) temporarily moved to Yerushalayim or Bnei Brak for safety reasons.
On one hand the move is understandable, with rockets landing in Ashdod they wanted to move to a safer place. However, on the other hand, this raises some serious questions. The Charedi world justifies the draft exemption for yeshiva students based on the following:
1. Torah learning protects everyone
2. The boys are engaged in מלחמתה של תורה
3. Talmidie Chachamim don't need protection
Based on these it would seem that the Yeshivas should stay where they are. If the boys who are learning are engaged in war just like the soldiers why should they abandon their posts? In addition if Torah learning protects, let them stay where they are and be protected by their Torah. Their move undermines the claim for draft exemptions and looks very bad. The soldiers are entering Gaza to fight while the yeshiva bachurim are fleeing to safer havens.