Rambam and Drafting Yeshiva Students


Question: Doesn't the Rambam write at the end of Hilchot Shemitah Ve-Yovel that yeshiva students are exempt from army service?

Answer: Many authorities who rule that yeshiva students are exempt rely on these words of the Rambam (ibid. 13:12-13): "Why didn't the Tribe of Levi merit a portion in the Land of Israel?...  Because they were set aside to serve G-d, to serve him and to teach His upright path and His righteous laws to the community... They are therefore kept separate from worldly matters.  They do not wage war like the rest of Israel, they do not receive a heritage, and they do not have the benefits of a strong body – rather, they act as the army of G-d... And this applies not only to the tribe of Levi, but to every individual man in the world who volunteers and who understands on his own to separate himself and to stand before G-d, to serve Him and toil to understand G-d... and who relieves himself of the burden of the reckonings with which people are involved..."

Making halachic conclusions about exempting yeshiva students by comparing this matter with what the Rambam writes about the Levi'im and Torah scholars is a distortion of the true Torah.  Our Rabbi Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah already pointed this out for various reasons (Li-Netivot Yisrael vol. 1, p. 125):

1. These are not Halachic statements but ethical and spiritual guidelines, and the Rambam often ends his books in this manner.

2. The Rambam details the various exemptions from war in Hilchot Melachim (The Halachot of Wars), and not in Hilchot Shemitah Ve-Yovel (The Halachot of the Shemitah Year and Jubliee Year).  No exemption for those who learn Torah is mentioned in Hilchot Melachim.

3. In Hilchot Shemitah Ve-Yovel, the Rambam is not specially discussing Israel and those who learn Torah, but "every individual man in the world."  This is not a halachic pronouncement, but a promise to provide for the needs of one who volunteers his spirit and elevates himself above worldly needs (Mishpatei Ha-Meluchah, p. 194).

4. Ha-Rav Tanenbaum, who was the secretary of the Va'ad Ha-Yeshivot in Israel, heard from Ha-Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer that it is a falsification to claim based on this Rambam that yeshiva students are exempt from military service.