Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What the Yeshivas Owe the Army

Vietnam and yeshivas. It would seem to be an "unholy" alliance. And yet, the yeshiva world we know today owes a great deal to Vietnam. Some would argue that yeshivas owe everything to Vietnam.

Young men coming of age today do not have the same worries that young men did in the 60s. There is no compulsory draft for the armed forces today as there was back then. While all young men have to register with their draft boards when they turn 18, they are not able to be called to active duty.

Things were far different in the Vietnam era. There was a draft lottery every year. All the days of the year were drawn randomly, the first pick assigning the number one to all those whose birthday it was going on through all the days. Men were called into service beginning with the number one.

As you can see from the information taken from the Selective Services System below, there were very few ways of avoiding being drafted. Being in college did not get you a deferment. Neither did graduate school. Marriage did not get you a deferment either. Neither did being a parent, although those with 2 or more children could apply for a deferment and it was sometimes granted.

Now let's look at the frum Jewish world at that time. Girls were not routinely getting married at 18 and boys were not getting married at 21 routinely either. While some boys learned in yeshivas during the day and went to college at night, far more frum boys went to college during the day, or worked during the day and went to college at night. The imposing buildings that line Ocean Parkway and the interior of Brooklyn did not exist. Yeshivas were fairly sleepy little places, not huge factories churning out graduates like canned goods. Boys did not for the most part sit down to learn after they got married--any who were going to learn did so before they got married. Kollel couples were the minority in the frum world. Certainly the "5 years learning after marriage" had not yet been heard of.

Were roshei hayeshiva unhappy about this? I don't doubt they were, but they really didn't have the sway to change the entire population.

Enter Vietnam. The country as a whole was sorely divided about our participation in the war. Protests were unending. Some US citizens "escaped" to Canada to avoid serving. Jewish parents, the same as non Jewish parents, were worried about their sons serving in the military. Those Jews of European descent certainly had a basis for their worries; in Europe, Jewish boys who were drafted were frequently never heard from again. What to do?

You will note below that among the few deferment classes, clergy qualified for deferment. Not only clergy, but students who were studying to become clergymen. Suddenly you had the answer to a rosh yeshiva's dreams. Jewish boys weren't going to get compulsory military service--they were going to get compulsory yeshiva service.

There arose littering the surface of every nook and cranny in Brooklyn the ubiquitous "draft dodger yeshivas." Anyone with smicha, and quite a few without, was opening up a yeshiva to handle the sudden "assault" of boys who needed a yeshiva to register in. Suddenly thousands of boys developed a burning desire to become clergymen. And it wasn't just the little storefront yeshivas who were garnering the benefit of these new students. Hundreds flocked to the already established yeshivas as well. And oh did they pay well for the privilege of being kept safe at home. And perhaps not so strangely, those boys who were in college while studying in yeshiva still remained in college. But they were registered in yeshiva and that's what counted.

People like to sneer about our President's father buying his son's way out of active duty. And he was different from the Jewish fathers with money just how? Smicha was for sale for the right price. Some boys--a lot of boys--were never seen in their yeshivas after their fathers paid the tuition fee. Some few others would drop in occasionally. Everyone alive then knew exactly what was going on. If some were upset they rationalized things to themselves by saying the war would be over and things would go back to normal.

"Back to normal" never arrived. After the Vietnam War there was still the draft and still the fear. Yeshivas capitalized on this for their own benefit. Did you really expect them to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs? As long as the draft was there parents still were worried. And then the compulsory draft ended. Yeshivas, however, were not going to go back to how things were before without a fight. And the government gave them the perfect tool.

Even though there is no compulsory draft right now, boys between the age of 18 and 26 are the first ones who would be called up if Congress authorized a draft due to a war emergency. Go ahead, figure out the general ages of those who are sitting and learning in yeshiva today--between 18 and 26. That learning after marriage rule? Do the math and you get them in yeshiva until they are 26.

The younger boys who are in yeshiva right now may not know quite how learning until 26 came about but the older people, and certainly the roshei hayeshiva, know. Of course, no one will admit to it. And there are an awful lot of young men out there who are not happy being in yeshiva for that long--they do not have a "calling" for becoming a rabbi, and they just might do better by learning something that they could make a living at and attending shiurim or learning koveah itim. Parents have become indentured servants as young married couples settle into the "learning" life and are supported by others. Divorces are on the rise, as are shalom bayis problems. That lifestyle that we are being told is so right and so natural "for everyone" is a modern day response to a practical issue of war. As one commenter said, our life today is not the life that everyone in Europe lived, the Europe we always claim to be reestablishing here.

And just for the record, yes, I can say what I have said because my husband was not one of the draft dodger yeshiva boys. His draft number was #4 and he was inducted before the draft dodger yeshivas could hammer up their signs. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam and he was not the only Borough Park or frum boy there. And yes, I know some of the men whose smicha is bogus. And yes I know some of the men who were in yeshiva in registered name only. And I'll bet that your parents do too. Or maybe you, yourself do. My husband didn't molder in yeshiva when he came back either. He went to college at night and worked full time during the day and got married and had children. And yes, he picked up seforim to learn and still does and he's a polished baal kriah and baal tefila.

So thank you Vietnam. Without you the yeshivas would not have seen their tremendous growth. Without you young men who get married today might be forced to grow up and take responsibility for themselves and their wives and children. And they say that war is hell. Can't prove it by the yeshiva world.

The following information is intended as background about the draft and about deferments.

Men are not classified now. Classification is the process of determining who is available for military service and who is deferred or exempted. Classifications are based on each individual registrant's circumstances and beliefs. A classification program would go into effect when Congress and the President decide to resume a draft. Then, men who are qualified for induction would have the opportunity to file a claim for exemptions, deferments, and postponements from military service. Here is a list of some, though not all, classifications and what they mean:

1-A - available immediately for military service.

1-O Conscientious Objector- conscientiously opposed to both types (combatant and non-combatant) of military training and service - fulfills his service obligation as a civilian alternative service worker.

1-A-O Conscientious Objector - conscientiously opposed to training and military service requiring the use of arms - fulfills his service obligation in a noncombatant position within the military.

2-D Ministerial Students - deferred from military service until they complete their studies..

3-A Hardship Deferment - deferred from military service because service would cause hardship upon his family.

4-C Alien or Dual National - sometimes exempt from military service.

4-D Ministers of Religion - exempted from military service.

Student Postponements - a college student may have his induction postponed until he finishes the current semester or, if a senior, the end of the academic year. A high school student may have his induction postponed until he graduates or until he reaches age 20. Appealing a Classification - A man may appeal his classification to a Selective Service Appeal Board.

If a draft were held today, it would be dramatically different from the one held during the Vietnam War. A series of reforms during the latter part of the Vietnam conflict changed the way the draft operated to make it more fair and equitable. If a draft were held today, there would be fewer reasons to excuse a man from service.

Assigning different priorities of call for men within Class I-A on the basis of their being single or married ended with an amendment to Selective Service System regulations (38 Federal Register 13485) on May 23, 1973. Marital status alone no longer affected priority of draft call. Unless revised by Congress or a change in Selective Service System regulations, these rules would apply in a future draft.

Eligibility for the III-A classification on the basis of paternity ended in 1970. President Nixon issued Executive Order 11527 on April 23, 1970, which terminated the availability of the Class III-A paternity deferment for new fathers if the child was conceived on or after that date. Class III-A remained available for fathers of children conceived prior to that date, and for men who could prove hardship to dependents.



Anonymous said...

May not agree with me but at least avoiding the army is a practical reason for being in yeshiva. Maybe if guys were told the real reason for staying in yeshiva so long they would stop grousing about it.

Anonymous said...

Does it matter how the boys all ended up going to yeshiva as long as they all go? You can't really be saying that there is something wrong with having a Torah educated group of men.

Anonymous said...

From someone else who was alive and there during the Vietnam war, thanks for telling it like it was. My kids have heard the stories but their friends think I'm just making all this up. Most of the other guys who sat in yeshiva while I was serving are no better educated in Torah then I am, because most of them did precious little sitting. My brotherinlaw managed to get smicha while completing law school and being married--go ahead and try it today and see if it is at all possible. At least he doesn't have the gall to go around calling himself rabbi when he knows how little he did to earn that title. Funny enough his having smicha helped with his kids shidduchim. What a joke.

Anonymous said...

For hatzolas nefoshos you do what you have to do. Can't blame the yeshivas for saving lives during Vietnam. Today just might be a different story.

Anonymous said...

I think we're missing the point here. This is not about Vietnam anymore. A system got put into place, good or bad however you look at it, and it's still here and more powerful then it ever was. Boys who shouldn't be in yeshiva, who don't want to be in yeshiva are forced to be because their particular society says that only a learning boy is going to be a proper shidduch.The system also encourages keeping the boys from growing up by having to take the step of earning a living. Forget how it all got here--fix what's wrong with it for today's world.

Anonymous said...

They're using the same rotten excuse in Israel today. The frum boys run to yeshiva instead of to the army. Oh they want someone to be in the army and protect them just don't let it be them doing the job. They're not really running to learn, they're just running away from a responsibility. Didn't anyone teach them that Yehoshua was an army general?

Anonymous said...

Look, learning is a good thing. But making a rule that everyone has to be in yeshiva for so long doesn't result in more learning really. Plenty of boys in yeshiva who are just going through the motions or frankly don't have the intellect for the type of deep learning that should be done in kollel. What is the benefit to them by doing this? They don't go to college early enough and they don't go to work early enough and families suffer because everything is dumped on the wife.

With Yissochor and Zevulun people should remember that there were two of them and one of them worked and learned. That ratio is disappearing. Who is going to support the learning guys and yeshivas if no one is out working or not able to make a decent living?

Anonymous said...

Sinah between various frum groups is nothing new. What the Vietnam war did was allow the yeshivish crowd to crow that they were better then the rest of the frum groups because look what they did to "save" jews that the other frum groups didn't do. The war is over and they still are crowing that they are at the top of the heap of frum jews. They barely tolerate the rest of us. And only their yeshives are considered good enough. I learned in YU bais medrash for smicha and "they" said I was mode4rn orthodox not yeshivesh.