The Talmud says: "The law of the land is the law." But this is only so if the rules of a justice system established by the government are not contrary to the Torah's laws and basic human freedom.

Governments in the free world are committed to the protection of religious freedom of the individual. A contemporary example of this commitment in the United States military is illustrative. A religious Jew, after becoming a high ranking officer in the U.S. army, was ordered by his superior to remove his skullcap because he felt it did not fit the country's military uniform. The Jewish officer went to court and made a case against the government. He won the case and was granted permission to wear his kippa.

A young man from Israel once sought a blessing from the Rebbe to receive an exemption from the Israeli army draft. The Rebbe replied very sharply: “Who says your blood is redder than the blood of your fellows?!” The Soviet military, on the other hand, was more problematic for a young Jewish man.

Soviet military conscription meant parting completely with Torah and its commandments. It was a life where you were not allowed to put on tefillin, had no time for prayer, no kosher food, no matzah on Passover, and so on. A religious Jew could not keep his Judaism in the army.

The boys who learned in Samarkand were of draft age and we had to ensure that they were released from army duties. The ones in charge of this task were primarily R. Binyamin Malachovsky and R. Moshiach Chudaitov.

The process of obtaining an exemption began about a year or more before they had to stand before the draft board. The yeshiva student would go to the local doctor and complain about some pain he had been experiencing. For a year or so he would return to the doctor several times, complaining about the same “malady” that he supposedly suffered from. We usually chose illnesses that a doctor would have a hard time verifying, such as stomach pains or mental illnesses.

When it was time to stand before the draft board and the young man would complain to the military doctor that he suffered from a certain malady, he would be asked to present his medical history. He would show that he had been to the doctor several times in the previous year regarding this complaint.

At the draft office they did not always rely on the medical history and they often told potential draftees to undergo tests and X-rays with specific doctors that were trusted by the military. In Samarkand there were a few Jewish doctors who worked with the army, Dr. Yosef Levin, Dr. Yitzchok (Izhye) Aharonson, Dr. Abayev and others. R. Binyamin and R. Moshiach were on good terms with them and they would send the boys who needed confirmation of their illnesses to be checked by them.

This was a real self-sacrifice on the part of the doctors. They held high-ranking positions, and if they were caught, they not only would lose their job but could be placed in jail. It should be noted that, to their credit, the doctors never asked for payment for the services they provided for us. We felt obligated to thank them though, and R. Binyamin and R. Moshiach would send them various gifts.

It happened quite often that after the doctors in the recruiting center confirmed that one had an illness and was unfit to serve in the army, military officials decided to have him examined by another doctor or to send him to take more tests and X-rays. In such cases, the medical experts who partnered with us on behalf of our boys would turn to the doctor to whom the young man was sent and ask him to do them a favor by issuing a similar opinion to their conclusion. The physicians knew that there would be other occasions in which they would need a favor from the Jewish doctor, and they were thus willing to cover for each other.

Occasionally, it happened that the army decided to send their draftee for more tests at the hospital, or even to hospitalize him for a few days. This made things difficult for us, because we had to make connections with doctors at the hospital. We also had to ensure that the yeshiva boy had kosher food to eat and was able to put on tefillin. The Jewish doctors at the hospital were generally cooperative and helpful.

Nearly all of the boys in Samarkand went through this process until they were exempted. Some of the students who came from other cities succeeded in receiving exemptions in their hometowns, but those who had not needed to undergo a much more complicated process. First they needed a permit of residence for Samarkand; they had to register as a resident and prove that they were employed or attending university. It was only after they completed this process that they were able to work on receiving an exemption from the army.

It was often necessary to go to the draft office and wait in the yard for the doctor in order to remind him that one of our boys was coming that day and he should remember to treat him accordingly. One time, during the Shabbos morning prayers, R. Binyamin was told that someone had possibly informed on them for trying to get Emanuel Ladaiov released from the army. The Jewish doctor who worked on his file was very afraid and was considering reporting what happened so that the blame would not fall on her shoulders.

R. Binyamin immediately removed his prayer shawl and ran to the doctor’s office, located a number of kilometers away, in order to calm her down. She literally cried to him and said, “What do I need this for? I can lose my entire career and be sent to jail!” It took much effort on Binyamin’s part to placate her.

Years later, after we left Russia, R. Binyamin once spoke to an audience in New York about the self-sacrifice Russian Jewry in those days. Someone in the audience, who did not believe that everything that he related had actually occurred, began to shout, “Stop lying and exaggerating with your stories!”

R. Binyamin, offended from the remark, was about to reply when a young man who had recently left Russia stood up in a corner of the auditorium. He quieted the man and said, “Do you know who saved me from the Russian army? It was the speaker himself, R. Binyamin Malachovsky.”

The young man later approached R. Binyamin and recounted to him as follows:

"You undoubtedly remember that in my youth I wasn’t considered one of the studious boys in the yeshiva, and I spent time with friends who weren’t a great influence for me. My father had sent me to Samarkand in the hopes that it would change me for the better.

"When it was my turn to stand before the draft office, I asked for your help in receiving an exemption. I was told that a meeting had been held about my case. The participants in the meeting deliberated whether to help me get an exemption or to allow me to go to the army, which might actually make a mentch out of me. You, R. Binyamin, maintained that it was imperative to save me from the army, since if I were to go to the army, I would completely abandon Judaism. The others accepted what you said and because of your efforts I was exempted. I will never forget your great kindness!"