If we could only put the ancient stories of Chanukah behind us — but they are, unfortunately as fresh as today's news.
Joshua preferred to be called Jason, even as he became Kohen Godol. His brother Chonyah, who succeeded him, was Menelaus by the time he took over. When Jason/Joshua took office, he offered the king an enormous bribe to be allowed to found a college and institution for physical exercises. When the king agreed, Jason "immediately set about to lead his countrymen astray, persuading them to adopt Hellenic customs. . . He even had the audacity to erect beneath the very Temple Mount a building intended for gymnastic sports, and to constrain the finest youths to participate in the exercises held there . . . the movement towards Hellenism and the impulse to adopt foreign practices became . . . strong . . ." (2 Maccabees Chapter 4, quoted in Collected Writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, vol. II, p. 195)
Though no one thinks the current threat is as serious as the one from over 2,000 years ago, it is clear that the High Court that declared that the current arrangement for draft deferral of yeshiva students is illegal is animated by the same feelings as Jason was so long ago.
Every Minister of Defense has accepted and even defended it. Army personnel have said and written, time and again, that drafting thousands of unwilling yeshiva students who can legitimately demand all sorts of expensive and difficult accommodations for their religious practices, and whose culture and way of life is so different from current army norms, will certainly be a drain on the army's resources. Furthermore, the social divisions such a step is liable to cause and the concomitant morale problem are liable to reduce the army's fighting ability rather than enhance it. In short, the Israeli Defense Forces are probably better off without yeshiva bochurim.
Moreover, for years there has been a surplus of inductees, and the army is very quick to free anyone who does not want to serve. Today, only 55% of every age cohort actually enters the army — 21% are Arabs, only about 8% are talmidei yeshiva, and the other 16% include all the medical problems as well as an increasing number of "others" who do not serve, including prominent rock stars.
General Yoram Yair, former head of the personnel division of the IDF ridiculed the notion that "social justice" demands the drafting of yeshiva students: "For years there has been no social justice. 80% of the soldiers serve in the administrative and support divisions while the rest serve at the battle front. There is no equality in this business and no equitable distribution of the burden and there cannot be."
The High Court, in throwing the ball back to the Knesset, admitted that the question is primarily a political one. The politicians, in generating a volume of press releases that surprised even veteran Knesset reporters, seemed to agree. The goal is to spread the Hellenism that we have been battling for more than 2,000 years.
We are not interested in covering up for those who make fraudulent use of the draft deferral for yeshiva students. On the contrary, those few true draft dodgers threaten the overwhelming majority of the young men who are giving the best years of their lives rendering the highest form of service possible to the Jewish people by their full-time pursuit of Torah studies. Those draft dodgers should be stopped, though not at undue cost to the dignity or time of the honest majority.
Politically speaking, since the High Court has sent the issue back to the Knesset, where it has been considered and debated for more than 50 years, it is likely that no radical change will result.
Morally and religiously, if we "observe how this epoch of betrayal and revolt was . . . succeeded by centuries and millennia of faithfulness, of devotion and self-sacrifice for G-d and Judaism; [we] learn from this to look to the future with confidence." (Collected Writings, ibid.)