Men at Western Wall 395.
(photo credit:Marc Israel Sellem)
In the wake of the cabinet’s approval Sunday of the haredi enlistment bill, the
mood on the haredi street is particularly combative. Although the bill, if
ratified in the Knesset, would mandate obligatory military service for haredi
young men only in 2017, the ultra-Orthodox leadership and extremists within the
community have chosen to view the move as a casus belli.
on haredi soldiers in uniform are a particularly repugnant expression of
opposition to military service. On Tuesday, in Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim
neighborhood, a mob converged on one such soldier. They beat him and threw eggs
at him until he managed to barricade himself in the office of a relative. Only
after police arrived could the young man be extricated. Four haredi youths, one
a minor, were arrested for attacking the police.
These are no pacifist
conscientious objectors. Thankfully, Judaism is essentially a peaceful religion
that pursues peace, due in part to the fact that it has developed over two
millennia as the faith of a powerless people. Nevertheless, blind faith that God
is on their side makes these zealots particularly dangerous because, for them,
the ends justify the means.
Intimidation and social pressures perpetuate
a reign of fear within the insular community that serves to enforce uniformity
of thought and deed. Families in which a son opts for IDF service fear they will
be blackballed by the community. Matchmakers will recommend only the least
desirable spouses for marriage; siblings of the soldier will be barred from the
most prestigious schools.
And there are other types of intimidation. Just
this week in the haredi city of Bnei Brak the owners of a pizzeria that dared to
offer discounts to soldiers in uniform backed down to pressure from community
After years of suffering vilification for his beliefs, Rabbi
Yoel Schwartz, who helped found the Nahal Haredi/Netzah Yehuda Battalion and
served as its spiritual adviser, has announced he had enough. He will withdraw
his support for military service for haredi young men. He cited the extremist
haredi political leadership’s uncompromising stance as part of the
It should be no surprise that hundreds of haredi soldiers ask for
permission to return home from army base in civilian clothing. Yehuda Meshi
Zahav, the haredi founder of the ZAKA rescue and recovery organization, said his
son, who serves in the Golani Brigade, was witness to dozens of haredi soldiers
who waited in line for the bathroom on the train back home to change
Many haredi soldiers have already been disowned fully or
partially by their families.
Unless more support is provided to those who
enlist in the military and their families, the bill approved this week in the
cabinet for government support will never be implemented.
On a grassroots
level, some initiatives have been launched to help haredi soldiers. The
Jerusalem Institute of Justice provides many haredi soldiers with a home and
helps them receive the status of “lone soldier” normally reserved for those
serving in the IDF whose families live abroad. Meshi Zahav has spoken publicly
against the attacks on the soldiers.
In contrast, the silence of haredi
MKs on the matter is a scandal.
Unless state authorities do more to
protect haredi soldiers, the haredi enlistment bill will be doomed to
Those responsible for attacks must be brought to
A printing press operating in Jerusalem that prints incendiary
public notices (pashkevilim) denouncing haredim who serve in the IDF and incites
against them must be closed down.
In parallel, the IDF must provide these
soldiers with more support. Permitting them to return home in civilian clothing
is not the answer. Soldiers who are disowned by the families should be provided
with housing and food when they are off duty. Perhaps these soldiers can be
paired with adoptive families. Protection should be provided to soldiers who
foresee trouble in their neighborhood if they return home in uniform.
inner dynamics of the haredi community are such that the zealots have the upper
hand and more moderate voices such as Rabbi Schwartz’s are nearly impossible to
voice. State authorities, however, can and must do more to provide support to
haredi soldiers who serve their country.
Failing to do so will only
further complicate the seemingly insurmountable problem of haredi draft-dodging.
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