Not that I am surprised at this turn of events. But it still doesn’t make me any less disturbed by it. Yesterday there were demonstrations by hundreds (or possibly thousands) of Yeshiva students in Israel protesting the latest development in the draft issue. From the Jewish Press:
The provocation was a Supreme Court decision to block support grants to yeshiva students who haven’t registered to serve in the army. Another cause given was the arrest, a month ago, of one yeshiva student who had failed to register with the draft office.
I understand their angst. These are funds they have relied upon for decades in order to subsist. And suddenly the rug was pulled out from under them.
The arguments from the right opposing the draft of Charedim are many and furious. Mostly having to do with their perception that the Israeli government’s new policies on this issue are based on anti Semitism.
You read that correctly. They claim that the government of Israel’s hatred of Charedim is the same as the Nazi hatred of the Jews. I have seen more than one Charedi editorial in effect saying that if you take the anti Charedi statements made by some government officials, and replace the word Charedi with the word Jew, the Jewish media would be screaming anti Semitism.
Yes, Charedi leaders are angry. But I do not understand their inability see what this is really about. It is as if they have blinders on. They have never addressed the one justifiable claim that I cannot get past. The fact that by virtue of avoiding the draft, Charedim have zero chance of being put in harm’s way. This is unlike all other citizens of Israel, including Dati Leumi and religious Zionists. The retort has always been that most soldiers are not put in harm’s way… and that in any case Charedim are not needed – the army having more than enough manpower without them.
But that misses the point entirely. By leaving themselves out of the pool of recruits available for combat, they get to live. No Charedi mother ever has to worry if her son will come home in one piece… or come home in a box! All Israeli recruits are subject to possible combat or other dangerous missions. Charedim don’t have to worry about that.
Charedim claim that they provide service to the nation by simply studying Torah in the Beis HaMedrash. I agree that Torah study is a valuable enterprise of paramount importance. And that it is undervalued by the government. But at the same time I do not believe that every Charedi in the State of Israel ought to be exempt from service simply because he has a seat in a Beis HaMedrash somewhere.
Although I support anyone’s right to learn full time so for as long as he wishes as long as he is not a burden to society – even if he isn’t among the cream of the crop – I do not support all of them being permanently exempt from the draft. Only the ‘best and brightest ought to be.
Meanwhile the rabbis of the right keep screaming Gezeiras HaShmad. And the most strident among them say they will resist to the death any attempt to be inducted. Their fear is that compulsory army service will destroy the Charedi world as we know it. And worse – it will ruin the Yiddshkeit of the inductees. They point to statistics where soldiers from observant homes have either stopped being observant or have severely reduced levels of observance.
I’m sure they can point to numerous examples of this. But I do not accept that this will be the rule for sincerely devout Charedim that are inducted. Especially since the government has promised to accommodate their Charedi Chumros like having all male units. ( …a promise that they ought to be held accountable for.)
About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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