As the issue of military service for haredi men comes to a boil, I think I might
have hit upon a solution, a solution that can not only save Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition negotiators a great deal of trouble, but also
save Israeli society a ton of aggravation and discord.
My resolution for
the draft conundrum won’t require ultra- Orthodox politicians or rabbis to
abandon their high principles (as haredi leaders say, no one who wants to study
Torah should be prevented from doing so, without restrictions or quotas). My
solution won’t require the IDF or the police to drag a single haredi youngster
out of his yeshiva or his home.
Similarly, my solution for this vexing
matter won’t require secular Israelis to put aside their nationalistic ethics or
their values (as in, “One man, one vote, one soldier – no exceptions”). Nobody
will have to stomach the unfairness of sending their son off to the military
front while hearing the obnoxious claim that haredim are “equally putting their
lives at stake in the tents of Torah.”
Indeed, my solution for the haredi
draft issue embraces the opposing core principles of both the haredi and the
secular camps, and yet manages to square the circle. It simultaneously upholds
the belief that the world of Torah study should be allowed to flourish without
restriction in the State of Israel, and the belief that it is morally
unacceptable that an entire class of Israeli citizens automatically be released
from the burden of defending the country.
Here’s how: We draft the
haredim into the Israeli army or into national service – when they’re on
HAREDIM WILL serve only during their semester breaks, when they
are anyway not “studying their hearts out” in yeshiva (or in the literal Hebrew
phrase they like to use: “Studying to death in the tents of Torah”). No haredi
youngster or married kollel man has to miss a day of yeshiva classes, any time,
For the secular or modern- Orthodox Israeli this wouldn’t be a
workable solution. In the normal course of things, average people don’t get
enough vacation from work to devote to another significant pursuit. Most
employees can take, at best, two or three weeks a year in personal vacation
time, and this is insufficient for regular service in the army. It’s barely
enough time for annual reserve duty. (The self-employed often cannot afford to
take even a week off!) In fact, there is no profession in modern Israel and no
occupation whatsoever where employees get more than a month’s time in annual
vacation. Not even senior executives. Nobody gets more than a month’s vacation
time – except yeshiva students and yeshiva educators. They take 10 weeks of
vacation a year! Consider: almost every yeshiva and kollel in this country
operates on the same academic calendar.
They begin studies at the
beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul (August or September) and conclude their
first “zman” (yeshiva slang for “semester”) six weeks later, before Yom
Then students and teachers are off on vacation though Succot
until the beginning of Cheshvan.
Total vacation time, in one lump: Three
The five-month winter study semester concludes at the end of Adar,
and the yeshivas are closed for the entire month of Nissan (including Passover).
Vacation time: Another four weeks.
The three-month summer semester ends
at the beginning of Av, launching another vacation break, amounting to an
additional three-to-four weeks.
Total annual vacation time accrued, for
all junior and senior kollel men, yeshiva boys, and yeshiva educators of all
ranks and stripes: 10 to 11 weeks.
Ultra-Orthodox society calls this bein
hazmanim (between semesters).
At these times, you’ll find haredi youth
and families traveling and hiking the country, visiting its parks, shopping in
its malls, swimming in its pools, and even occasionally traveling abroad. Doing
normal vacation stuff. And yes, they study Torah during these breaks as well, in
I say that the State of Israel has a right to draft
these vacationing haredim for national and military service. The
well-endowed-withvacation haredim have an obligation to forgo at least some of
their time “outside the tents of Torah” to share in the national
IT COULD work like this: For, say, five out of their 10 weeks of
vacation each year, haredi men would be drafted into specially refined
frameworks and appropriate units – ranging from Nahal Haredi units to Magen
David Adom, and from rescue services to hi-tech air force units.
would serve without missing a minute of any formal Seder or zman, without
missing a single class or exam, without disrupting their long-term rabbinic or
Talmudic study plans, and without emptying out the yeshivas (which is what the
yeshiva deans fear most). And they can stay in the yeshivas and kollels for as
long as they want – 20, 30 or 40 years, or a lifetime, if that is what they
prefer (and can afford).
Some haredim might have to miss out on the
luxury of having a Passover Seder at home – but that’s a small price to pay for
national responsibility and unity.
Their yeshiva deans, who constantly
rail against excessive and too-loose vacationing, may even come to appreciate
the new arrangement, in which haredim serve together in a kosher and controlled
environment, instead of running around on vacation.
Some haredim might
even have to spend Yom Kippur in the army or in a hospital pushing
But at least they won’t have to worry about acceptable
levels of kosher food on that day! So haredim can serve on semester break. Call
it “giyus bein hazmanim” – vacation draft.
Even after serving five or six
weeks a year in the army (for multiple years), haredim would still be left on
average with an additional four to five weeks of annual vacation. Like I said,
that’s much more than the rest of us get.
I don’t mean to be facetious or
mocking of the haredim, or to belittle the importance they (and I) attach to the
professional, long-term study of Torah. I’m just saying that haredim have the
time and the ability to serve the country without egregiously cutting back on
Torah study and without abandoning their unique way of life – if they truly care
to share in the national security burden of this country and not just to hide
behind creaky ideological slogans.
For its part, mainstream Israel can
facilitate increased haredi participation in the army (and by extension, in
broader society too) by adopting crafty and nonthreatening compromise solutions,
such as this proposal.
The writer is director of public affairs at the
Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. His columns are archived at