Conscripting a few thousand more yeshiva students each year will not appreciably
shore up our national defenses. Denying small stipends to nonworking fathers who
devote themselves exclusively to religious studies will not shore up our
economy. Ostensibly, there is ample rationale for leaving things as they
But the status quo is not shaky only because of High Court focus on
both these issues, but because in both instances the searing sense of inequity
among those who do pull their weight in our society is exacerbated.
matters here is not necessarily what we tangibly gain from thwarting haredi
draft-dodging and from not shelling out taxpayer money.
allotment of NIS 1,000 granted to married yeshiva students – fathers to three or
more children, who do not work but rather study full-time – depletes our
collective coffers by roughly NIS 135 million annually.
The Supreme Court
already nixed the allotments two years ago, but they were promptly reintroduced
under the guise of “an incentive to employment.”
Against the background
of the entire state budget they are no enormous outlay. But again, appearances
The notion that most of us work but some do not and, worse yet,
that the working majority must carry the nonearners on their backs undermines
morale. Restoring a basic sense of fairness is paramount because the majority of
citizens who toil and who perform their military service feel like
This is nothing to scoff at because such perceptions can rip
apart our social fabric, and that would hurt both our national defense and our
economy, upon which we all – haredim included – depend.
In its response
to a High Court petition ahead of a hearing Thursday, the Defense Ministry
pledged to only begin drafting ultra-Orthodox male adolescents who reach the age
of military service in summer 2013. Moreover, the draft quotas will rise
incrementally over the coming years. The plan is to conscript 8,000 young haredi
men more each year until, by 2015, all eligible ablebodied candidates for
service are drafted. An exception may be made only for a limited number of
exceptionally outstanding scholars.
Prima facie, officialdom did, as the
petitioners charge, violate the law by not having drafted all haredi students
from the minute the “Tal Law” expired last August. That legislation perversely
provided an official stamp of approval for what turned out to have been an
elaborate charade. It furthered and preserved the link between enrollment in a
yeshiva and exemption from military service.
The apparent link grated
against that crucial unwritten contract whereby all members of society assume
they are treated impartially and are asked to contribute to the public good to
the same degree as others do. This is a basic ingredient of the glue that binds
Our national cohesion can only benefit when a dubious
arrangement such as the Tal Law disappears from our agenda. Our greatest fear,
though, should not be that things will not radically change overnight regarding
the draft. A more cogent concern should be that in the end even gradually
increased haredi service will fail to materialize.
What needs to be
prevented is yet another “creative formula” that will leave the inequity
undented. Gradually increasing the numbers of conscripted ultra-orthodox youths
is likely the best available option, which could also be imposed at random. A
net could be cast unpredictably and whoever is caught in it must serve or face
The deterrent value of possible punishment cannot
be underestimated and might facilitate the conscription of greater numbers of
From this point on it will be up to the electorate to
judge how each government that it puts into office uses the tools it already
possesses. Our public is more critical and more mindful of the issue than ever
Therefore, voters are more likely to scrutinize the record of
every defense minister and every coalition on the question of conscription.
Those who fail to deliver improvement may well risk voter backlash. The fear of
the voter can be a potent incentive to progress.
We have power and can do
more than gripe.