Serving as a member of Knesset has taught me so much. One of the most important lessons relates to truth and lies. I am amazed and saddened by the untruths spoken by many leaders in the religious camp. The degree of lying makes it seem as if verses from the Torah and teachings from our sages about the importance of telling the truth and staying away from lies don’t exist.
For the sake of clarity, I am now going to reveal the truth about the Israel draft law that is on the verge of passing. What I am writing is fact. Readers may be very surprised to learn these facts because the Yesh Atid-sponsored draft law is very different from what you have been reading in the haredi press and hearing from haredi politicians and activists.
The law says nothing about haredim going to jail. It says the army has specific goals for how many haredim will serve. As long as those goals are met, there is no mandatory draft of anyone who is in yeshiva. The law actually begins by doing the opposite of drafting yeshiva boys; it says that anyone who is over 22 when the law is passed will be completely exempt from any service. This frees them to enter the work force or continue learning.
The law then sets out its goals. Among those 24 and under, the goal is for 3,200 haredim to begin service between now and July 2014. Two thousand would serve in the army and 1,200 in national service. Army service can be done in Nachal Chareidi, an exclusively haredi unit with minyanim and time for learning, or in Shachar Kachol, which teaches its participants trades like computer and electric engineering which they can then use for a livelihood after their service.
The national service includes a variety of options – some are security-oriented (police, etc.) and some involve civil service in medical and other areas of need. Service is for two years.
If we analyze the tens of thousands who are currently in yeshiva learning, there are most certainly 3,200 who are not learning day and night, and all the roshei yeshiva have said that anyone not learning day and night should serve in the army.
Between July 2014 and July 2015 another 3,800 would begin service – 2,300 in the army and 1,500 in national service. The final goal is to have 5,200 begin service by 2017 – 3,000 in the army and 2,200 in national service.
Considering the fact that every year around 7,500 haredim reach the age of 18 and that many roshei yeshiva have said that 50 to 60 percent of the boys in yeshiva should not be there long term, these goals are very reasonable and preserve the value of Torah study for those who are truly cut out to do so day and night.
According to this plan, 35,500 would continue learning day and night while 17,000 would the country for two years in a framework geared to haredi young men – 10,000 in the army and approximately 7,000 in national service.
The law asks for those goals to be met. Straightforward and simple. If the goals are not met, then in 2017 all boys with the exception of 1,800 per year will be drafted. Those who refuse to serve will incur the same consequence as anyone else in the country who breaks the law. That may include jail time. Amazingly, even if we reach such an unfortunate situation, 12,600 men between the ages of 18 and 24 will be learning full time as their service to the country in addition to those who are above those ages who decide to focus on Torah learning.
These are the facts. Now for my opinion: If the haredi community would simply say, “Yes, we will send all boys who are not learning day and night to serve,” there would be no battle or tension.
But the haredi political leaders are not doing this. Twenty-five percent of boys leaving yeshiva translates into less money for those yeshivas. The law would also allow more bnei Torah to enter the work force and earn a living, which means fewer young men would require government handouts – the justification for the very existence of these political parties. They don’t want to lose this. Therefore they prefer to mislead the public and do battle. They prefer to fight the most generous offer they will ever see from the secular side and to tell their young men to not serve, thereby forcing the country into a corner and placing over their heads the threat of potential arrest in 2017.
The hallmark of the Jewish people has always been emes. It’s a tragedy that for selfish interests political leaders and activists are not telling the truth – and doing so as if it is in the name of Torah.
I hope this column lifts the veil of sheker that has settled over this sensitive issue. American donors to Israeli yeshivas should demand that those yeshivas send the boys who are not learning day and night to the army. Doing so would not only fulfill the instructions of Torah leaders and spare them the indignity of wasting their time, it will keep you from wasting your well-earned and well-intentioned donation money.
Demand transparency. Insist on truth. Nothing else should be expected of those who claim to represent the epitome of truth – our Torah.
About the Author: Rabbi Dov Lipman is a member of the 19th Knesset with the Yesh Atid party. He has rabbinic ordination from Ner Israel Rabbinical College and a Masters in education from Johns Hopkins University.
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