Religious Zionists in Israel may be pleased with Bayit Yehudi for enabling the advancement of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) enlistment bill, but their counterparts in the US said late Thursday that they were upset with the party’s behavior.
Bayit Yehudi faction head Ayelet Shaked chairs the committee that is legislating the bill. While she abstained on the controversial criminal sanctions clause, she also facilitated its passage.
Religious Zionists of America chairman Martin Oliner said he and other leaders of his community were disappointed that Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett had enabled the criminalization of yeshiva students.
“The fundamentals of religious Zionism are supporting Torah and avoda (“work”), and Torah comes first,” Oliner said. “A culture cannot be changed by force. It is wrong to put arbitrary quotas that are capricious on yeshiva students.
If you can put quotas on learning Torah, tomorrow they’ll do it on Hesder students, and later on people living over the Green Line.”
Oliner noted that the British had quotas for Jews moving to the land of Israel, and he said they should not be the model for the Jewish state. He said that students who are not learning should serve, recommending a test for Torah aptitude to determine who should remain in yeshiva.
Rabbinical Council of America president Rabbi Leonard Matanky said that as a Diaspora Jew who had not served in the IDF he was limited in what he could say. Nonetheless, he expressed concern regarding the decision.
“It is difficult for me to accept that anyone would be subject to criminal punishment for learning Torah,” Matanky said. “I understand the sociological and economic challenges that went into the decision, but Torah study is paramount to our existence.”
Matanky is the principal of Ida Crown Jewish Academy, a religious-Zionist high school in Chicago that encourages excellence in Torah and secular professions, as well as aliya and serving the State of Israel.
“Defending the lives of Jews in the State of Israel is an extraordinary mitzva,” he said. “There are people who should be studying Torah, and there are people who should be serving and earning a living. There need to be opportunities for helping those who were studying and now want to enter the workforce.”
Oliner and Matanky are members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
When Bennett met with the group last week, he pledged to use his Economy Ministry to help facilitate the employment of as many haredim as possible.
National Council of Young Israel president Farley Weiss, another American religious- Zionist leader who participated in the meeting with Bennett, said the Bayit Yehudi leader had told them that his party would not support criminal sanctions and he was surprised that the sanctions were adopted against his wishes.
"Since criminal sanctions are many years away from being implemented, the hope of NCYI is that everything will be worked out amicably and no criminal sanctions will ever be given," Weiss said. "We do not support criminal sanctions but we do support a program to incentivize an increase in haredi army service and bring more haredim into the workforce."
Weiss said the army needs to do everything it can to meet the needs of the haredi community to make them feel comfortable that their sons will remain religious when they are serving in the army.