The issue of haredim and serving the country is certainly a complex one to
solve. While it is clear to me that all haredim should serve in one form or
another, as long as their rabbis are telling them not to serve, and as long as
they feel they are being forced to serve, they will ignore the new
I spent a recent afternoon in Bnei Brak talking to haredim
and many made it clear that they are prepared to go to jail over this
No prime minister can deal with the prospect of having to haul off
tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox young men to prison. So, what should be
done? Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has chosen to punt and simply not deal
with the issue. The proposed legislation, the “Ya’alon Plan,” is a stunt which
won’t lead to any serious change from the status quo. The law allows haredi boys
to defer between the ages of 18 and 26 and only requires eight hours of study,
five days a week during that span – thereby opening the doors of the yeshivot
and kollelim to the masses. Once a young man has reached the age of 26, and has
a wife and children, he won’t leave the yeshiva to do any kind of national
DO I have a better idea? I don’t. But Yair Lapid does.
have studied every proposed plan and his is the one plan which can work –
because it takes the haredim themselves into account.
As opposed to
Netanyahu, Lapid did his homework and spoke to regular haredim.
surprising as this may sound, Lapid’s plan is the only one which I believe takes
into account what is truly best for the haredi community. My research over the
last few months has revealed this truth and it crystallized in my mind during my
recent afternoon in Bnei Brak.
The Lapid plan says something plain and
simple: For the next five years, open the doors for 18-year-old haredi young men
to go to work with no requirement to serve. During those five years the National
Authority for Civilian Service will identify the different needs throughout
Israeli society and arrange for those needs to be filled by those who will enter
National Service after the initial five years. In addition, during those five
years a payment plan will be put into place for combat soldiers who serve for a
full three years.
During those five years, the army will prepare programs
to enable much larger numbers of haredim to serve in the army, and national
service models will be created to be specifically geared to the needs of the
haredi (and Arab) populations. Those options will include serving in hospitals
and senior homes, providing security for neighborhoods in coordination with the
police, assisting with Magen David Adom/Hatzalah/ZAKA, and providing much-needed
support in educational institutions with a focus on easing the burden in the
realm of special education.
I believe that to round out this plan, one
point should be added: During those five years the government must pass
legislation which stipulates that government funding will flow only to
educational institutions which teach the most basic secular
After five years, the plan which requires all to serve will
begin. Those who the IDF chooses for combat units will serve for three years and
will be given special financial privileges.
Those in non-combat roles or
in National Service will serve for two years. A small group of elite Torah
scholars will be exempt from any service so their studies can continue
uninterrupted. Those who refuse to serve will lose all government funding, with
the exception of basic social security.
Why does this plan make the most
sense and why is it the only plan which can work? Because it takes the needs and
perspective of the haredim into account. Haredim have been brainwashed. A group
from the Forum for Equality in National Service recently held a vigil outside
the Coca-Cola factory in Bnei Brak. I stood on the side and witnessed two haredi
boys walking by while clinging to their fathers asking, “Are they here to take
us away to the army?” Their fathers reassured them that this would not
It shocked me, but was also very instructive.
children have been taught that there are evil people waiting to find a way to
make them irreligious, that any involvement with Israeli society is destructive
and that they cannot continue to live with their level of piety once they leave
the walls of the yeshiva.
As was verified during my discussions with
other haredim in Bnei Brak, the moment the restriction of work without service
is removed, around 30 percent will immediately leave yeshiva and kollel to go to
Indeed, many want to see change. This will quickly alter
perceptions and warm most of the community to the reality that one can remain
righteous – and even continue to study – while earning a
Aside from this, myths and propaganda regarding the secular
world will come crashing down. Haredi men have been telling me for months that
tensions have been developing in marriages over this issue. Their wives go to
work and slowly come to recognize that religious Zionists and the nonobservant
live with values and decency and are not the devil they have heard about from
This creates tension since the husbands, who are still
in the kollel, want to continue educating their children about the Satan which
exists “out there” but the wives don’t want to go along with what they now know
to be false. Thirty percent of the haredi male population entering the workforce
will have a dramatic impact on these perceptions throughout the community and
will lay the groundwork for the embracing of service of some kind and slowly
becoming a part of Israeli society.
I must also add that this will begin
the process of restoring a more moderate haredi world in place of the leanings
to the extreme which we have seen in recent years. Having witnessed much of this
extremism firsthand in Beit Shemesh and meeting with the “rabbinic” leader of
the most extreme group, it is clear to me that exposure to broader society and
tearing down some of the walls and barriers will combat most of the extremism
which has been so destructive to Israel.
During these five years, the
haredi world can be educated regarding what is coming.
Yes, the rabbis
and political leaders will continue to warn that soldiers will be entering the
study halls to force them into army service in the most immoral and impure
circumstances. But there are ways to circumvent them and get the true
information to the street.
Once the average haredi understands that
options will include two years of assisting in a local clinic or nursing home,
or studying in a haredi yeshiva for two years as a preparation for service –
coupled with the changed perceptions because of tens of thousands who have
already gone to work – rhetoric about the masses proudly marching to jail in
defiance of the new law will likely cease.
Is it unfair that haredim
should have five years of freedom to work without national service while the
rest of the country must serve? Yes. But that is the price we pay for decades of
both right- and left-wing governments giving the haredi leaders whatever they
asked for. It is a small price, though, to correct Israeli society in the most
Many will argue that five years is too long and
governments and laws will change in the interim and we won’t achieve equality
down the road. Even in the unlikely event that the legislation will be
overturned, we will have begun the process anyway. Once the haredi community
begins to work, more and more will want to go to work. And once that happens and
they slowly become a part of Israeli society, the natural inclination to serve
will surely follow, just perhaps at a slower pace than the five-year
The prime minister claims that the Ya’alon Plan was motivated by
the notion that change must happen gradually. I most certainly agree that change
can only succeed in stages, but the first step has to be some degree of change
and not political maneuvering with zero actual change on the ground.
Prime Minister, just let the haredim work and, in the interim, put everything
into place necessary to ease the transition of the haredi masses into a system
which shares the national responsibilities with equality. This won’t gain you
the support of the haredi political leaders, but it will bring you the respect
of the nation, including most haredim.
The writer is an ordained rabbi,
educator, author and political activist based in Beit Shemesh.