Once again I am disappointed at the Charedi reaction to a possible draft in Israel. This time it is attorney Eytan Kobre, who reacted in his weekly Mishpacha Magazine column Text Messages. And that’s all it is. A reflexive knee-jerk reaction. It is not any kind of rational argument to make his case that Charedim in Israel should not be drafted.
Unless you consider “Because the Gedolim say so” to be a rational argument. This of course assumes that there is universal opposition by rabbinic leaders to a draft. That would be false – since Religious Zionist leaders are in favor of it. Nonetheless his rabbinic leadership assumes that a universal draft will change the Charedi paradigm of learning full time. Which they consider a Yehoreg V’Al Yaavor.
First, I do not concede that this is a foregone conclusion. Secondly, I don’t think that is a bad thing if it is done the right way – a position I’ve explained many times in the past but beyond the scope of this post.
My problem with Mr. Kobre is his assumption that anyone who is in favor of a universal draft is out to ‘get him.’ By ‘him’, I mean Charedim. What motivates those of us who favor equalizing the draft, he says, is our distinct mission to destroy Torah Judaism. That is how he frames the issue.
There is not a single word addressing the question about the lack of equal sacrifice by all. No explanation about why all Charedim should be exempt. For Mr. Kobre it is all about ‘Good versus evil.’ The good guys being the Charedim – and the bad guys are anyone who would dare to suggest that Charedim should not be given an automatic exemption.
What makes matters worse is he impugns religious Jews as the worst among his detractors. He prefers that the opposition were coming from a secular or even anti-religious sources. That would of course make it easier for him to claim that this is all about anti-religious secular government.
His rhetoric is quite angry. He accuses his detractors of false piety and lying about their motives. As though the true motive was to destroy the Torah!
What prompted Eytan’s rant was an interview in the previous issue of Mishpacha of Aviad Friedman, a Charedi member of the Plesner committee – charged with coming up with a proposal for a universal draft. Which they did.
Mr. Friedman who seems to have impeccable Charedi credentials supported drafting as many Charedim into the IDF as possible. For this he was vilified and called a liar – applying to him the tired cliche of ‘showing his true colors.’ As if it is impossible to be Charedi and support the draft.
What was his lie? He said that he didn’t think that there is any real hatred of Charedim in Israel. Really? That’s a lie? Yes – there may be some hatred by a few on the radical left, but for the most part, there is no mass secular hatred. Only a sense that an element of fairness is missing in the way the secular Jew is treated versus the way the Charedi Jew is treated – especially when it comes to army service.
I take strong issue with Mr. Kobre’s description of religious Jews as the enemy just because they support a universal draft. That is a canard!
Just to be clear I will restate my own position on this issue. Israel should apply its conscription law equally to all demographic segments. Exemptions and deferrals should be applied equally to everyone. If a solider needs to be put in harms way – every able-bodied citizen – no matter what segment they belong to should be subject to the that possibility. No entire segment should get and an automatic exemption from danger.
If the draft is going to be equally applied, religious sensitivities must be guaranteed to all. This means that the infrastructure must be created and enforced so that Charedim will be able to practice Judaism as they best understand it. The bottom line for me is that no Charedi mother should ever be faced by a Chiloni or Religious Zionist mother asking the question, “Why did my son have to die in battle while your son was safe in a Yeshiva?”
Mr. Kobre’s assertion that the Charedi way of life will be automatically and fundamentally changed with such a law is patently false. It does not have to change. Deferments can be given to every draftee for purposes of study – university students and Yeshiva students alike. At some point in time they will all have to serve in some capacity. Yeshiva students who serve can if they choose return to the Beis HaMedrash full time after their service.
And just like exemptions are given in certain secular cases, so too can there be exemptions for certain Yeshiva students – the best and the brightest can continue to serve Klal Yisroel in their capacity as Lomdei Torah. But certainly those exemptions should not include every single Charedi Jew.
I am 100% convinced that a compromise can be reached that will satisfy all concerns. But Mr. Kobre does not assume that. He thinks it is ‘them versus us’ And the new ‘them’ are religious Jews who think that there is inequity in the system. Jews like me. And perhaps even Jews like Rabbi Dovid Landesman, a Charedi Rav who has also criticized the myopia of his own Charedi leadership.
No one says it is going to be easy. Restructuring the army to accommodate an enormous amount of Charedi recruits is a monumental task. I’m not sure how or when that is going to be done. It may take years to implement properly. But as a principle a universal draft must be upheld.
Arguments that Charedim are not really needed are completely beside the point. It is true that the army has gotten along fine without them till now. But that does not address the fairness issue.
Nor does the argument that the Lomdei Torah do as much if not more to provide security for the state. This argument will not wash to a grieving secular mother who lost her son in battle. Mr. Kobre is a highly intelligent man. Doesn’t he understand that? He has yet to explain what his answer to a grieving secular mother would be.
I think he owes all religious Jews who have differences of opinion with him on this issue an apology. We are not all the “Jewish anti-Semites’ he makes us out to be. We are not all disingenuous or displaying false piety when we say we support Torah learning. Certainly I am not. For many of us the inequity of service is an old problem that has long been festering beneath the surface and has now finally come to a head. Instead of painting us all as evil, he would do well to realize that, understand why, and give us some credit.
I will end with an excerpt from Rabbi Dovid Landesman’s guest post on this issue:
What right do I have to speak? I live here, [try] to earn a living here and, along with my sons, have served in the IDF. I would point out that I joined the IDF on the advice of my recently departed rosh yeshiva, who was a bona fide chareidi himself. He taught me that serving has nothing to do with supporting the medinah; if you live in a place you fulfill the obligations incumbent upon you; taxes, military service and contributing to the welfare of society. That said, and off my chest, let me make my point.
The essence of the problem is to somehow facilitate the entry of the chareidi world into Israel. Once that happens, the museum of authentic Judaism [the separatist kehillah created by R. Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld] will mainstream and “share the burden.” The olam ha-Torah is slowly evolving; Netzach Yehudah, the Shachar programs, the michlalot chareidiot, are all making a significant contribution toward this goal.
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 email@example.com.
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