The Israeli parliament passed a law earlier this year that will end the exemption of men from national service for ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students. Most Israelis are conscripted into the military at the age of 18 and serve for 2 to 3 years but since the foundation of Israel in 1948 ultra-Orthodox Jews studying at yeshiva seminaries have been effectively exempt.
This exemption has long been resented by others in Israel, but over the years the issue has become more significant because the ultra-Orthodox community has grown so rapidly, mainly due to their high birth rate. In recent years more than 10% of soldiers called up for national service have been exempted as full-time seminary students. Now, under the new law, by 2017 about 60% of seminaries students must perform national service each year.
This news has highlighted how much importance ultra-Orthodox Jews place on studying the Old Testament and the ancient writings of Jewish rabbis. Their studies begin at school, almost to the exclusion of secular subjects and most young men remain at seminaries until they are married. Many then continue their studies full time for many years after marriage at an institute called a “kollel” receiving a monthly allowance. Consequently almost two thirds of ultra-Orthodox men in Israel are not in employment, most depending on their wives incomes and state benefits.
If we love God’s word ourselves, we can admire the ultra-Orthodox devotion to the Holy Scriptures and their disciplined approach to studying them. Indeed, a way of life completely dedicated to Bible study may sound very attractive, but we have other responsibilities to remember as well. We have a duty to provide for our own material needs and for those who depend on us, if we are able, as the apostle Paul wrote:
“We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ, to settle down and earn the bread they eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:11-12 NIV)
Bible study is much more than an academic pursuit. It supplies guidance and encouragement to help us throughout the day. This is why Moses exhorted the children of Israel to think about God’s Word at all times:
“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6- 7 NIV)
The Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus day studied the law in great detail but failed to apply its spiritual lessons to themselves:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23 NIV)
Jesus also taught that the whole law hangs on two great commandments, “love the Lord your God” and “love your neighbour as yourself”, and true love must be practical:
“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18 NIV)
As well as studying God’s word we must put it into practice:
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22 NIV)
Our goal should be to go through our daily tasks, however mundane, with God’s Word (the Bible) constantly in mind, as David wrote:
“Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.” (Psalm 119:97 NIV)
He was a king, but he still found time to read God’s Word!!