The army is full of Orthodox Jewish men and women, who carry weapons and undergo the same training and day to day life as any other soldier.
A military day starts like this: You are up before the sun, and those who want to pray are led away to a synagogue (found on any base, just a five-minute walk from your barracks) just in time for morning prayers. The army gives ample time for prayer (I never received less than 45 minutes for any prayer of the day), regardless whether any soldier requests the time or not.
Those who choose not to pray are forced to clean the barracks, bathrooms, etc. So if you were the type who wanted to pray, but didn’t want to wake up early in the mornings before work or school, your problems are solved, because you’ll have to be awake before the crack of dawn anyway. And what else do you have to do at that point? Essentially, people who didn’t pray in civilian life, pray in the army. The alternative is cleaning, and come on, nobody likes doing that.
In my current battalion, our battalion commander is a religious Jew. A commander of one of our three companies is a religious Jew. I often see them both in the synagogue where we pray every morning.
The building is large, but it still gets crowded so I don’t always notice those two specific people. That’s not really a problem though, because there are other religious commanders and officers there as well.
Hence, there can’t be too much slacking off from prayer.
The synagogue also contains an extensive library for religious study; the entire Talmud is a given.
The entire army, as a government institution, must observe all Jewish holidays and dietary laws. Hence, all the food is kosher and supervised by the rabbinate. If you are a vegetarian, or if you eat only Glatt Kosher, you will receive exactly that and the food, will be good. Honestly, I love the food, and those of you who know me will know just how picky I am about food! I knew someone in my last base who had an allergy to gluten (or so he said), so the army gave him a package of food at breakfast, lunch and dinner, all gluten free. And you know what? His packages were better than what the rest of us were eating! So you may feel inclined to tell the army that you have an allergy to some food or that you’ll only eat Glatt Kosher. I’ve thought about it.
Also, as a soldier in Kfir, I often interact with soldiers from the Netzach Yehuda battalion, otherwise known as “Nahal Haredi,” which is a battalion made to specifically meet the needs of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) tradition. In this battalion, you will not encounter any female soldiers. You will not encounter any female commanders.
You will not encounter any female instructors. You will not encounter any female officers. You will not encounter any female doctors/nurses, nor any female social workers. No females, period. You will not only have specific times for prayer, you’ll have specific times for Torah study.
You won’t merely be eating kosher, but Glatt Kosher.
This past weekend was Purim, and normally we have to return to our commanders by 9:00 a.m. However, Sunday morning was a Megillah reading, and so the religious soldiers were given until 1:30 p.m. to return to their commanders, essentially giving ample time for attending a local Megillah reading during morning prayers. One of the guys in my battalion lives in Jerusalem, and he was given until Monday at 2 p.m. to return to his commanders, because Jerusalem has an added day of Purim with additional Megillah reading.
Have I given enough examples? This is a Jewish army. This is the army of the Jewish state. Religion is priority number one (a few days ago we put boxes upon boxes of Korans into storage for Muslim soldiers) and Judaism is the character of the army itself. That is why it deeply hurts me when I hear about haredim claiming at big protests in front of New York City news cameras that Israel is persecuting religious people, and that the Israeli army will make them less religious.
This is nothing but paranoid slander.
Is the army perfect? No. And I am writing about my own experience, and in the army individual experience varies. People like to point out when the system does a sloppy job. For example, during my draft I had to go through a 10-hour process not once, as is the norm, but twice! And all because some officer decided to go home an hour early.
It’s an army, and not a private army but a government-run institution. Hence, it has its quirks. Still, if a haredi man feels he is in a situation where his traditions or lifestyle is threatened in his unit for even a moment, all he must do is tell his commander. The entire army, all its laws and orders, will support this man. His situation will be resolved.
But I bet 98 percent of haredim in this army won’t ever feel the need to do any of that, as they will be welcomed into the IDF not by Nazis and anti-Semites, but by people like them.
I’ve heard other reasons why it would be wrong to draft the haredim, such as haredi children are “soft” and don’t know anything about physical combat. Yet what did I or any of my comrades know about how to hold a gun before we were drafted? Weren’t we just as soft-skinned as anyone in the haredi world before we were drafted? I heard the claim that this would lead to the closing of kollelim (places of study for people who choose to study Torah as a profession).
Yet I don’t understand the economic train of thought that leads to that conclusion.
Am I being told that the only people in Kollel are between the age of 18-21? Are there no older guys who said “study is my profession” for the Kollel to service? Surely there are, or else this whole thing is a huge lie.
Furthermore, in any given year there are a number of people who finish their service and leave the army while younger guys enter the army to begin their service.
Hence, why should a Kollel not have a continuous inflow of people who just finished their military service? If anything, army service will help Kollelim all over Israel keep less volume of people at any given time, and hence better enable them to allot more money to those currently in their halls, while at the same time maintaining greater financial stability. Think of it like less people on a public insurance program at any given time, while the total number remains roughly the same in the long run.
If anything, this is an excellent financial situation for a Kollel.
Haredim claim that Israel is made safe not merely by the hand of our soldiers but by the spiritual hand of their prayer. Not my prayer, as I am a simple soldier. Just their prayer, or mostly their prayer. I don’t want to have a theological debate here, but this implies God listens more closely to someone sitting in a heated room miles away from the battle than He does to a soldier who is literally five minutes from the gruesome fight itself. Somehow, I don’t recognize this God in the Taanach I read. It’s certainly not what we learn from the Book of Judges and the Book of Kings. What would King David have to say about that statement? What of the various warrior- scholar generals recorded in our books? I didn’t want to discuss politics on my blog nor did I ever think I would want to discuss the haredim at all. In fact, I was going to write instead about how serious things have gotten on my base after Islamic Jihad in Gaza fired 60 rockets into Israel and how we prepared to do our jobs in the event of a war. I also wanted to write about how things have changed since Michve Alon, and how different my new commanders are, and how daily life has changed on my new base. But I quickly realized that these two issues, the Defense of Israel and haredi objection to the new draft law (please read draft law as “any draft law”) are intertwined.
As I wrote above, during just one day of last week the terror organization Islamic Jihad fired over 60 rockets at Israel. The IDF responded and soldiers like me put themselves in harm’s way to restore quiet. Do the organizations like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Iran, etc., only want to kill me and Jews who aren’t haredi? Do they give the haredim a pass on death? So why is it that my brothers feel I am the only one who deserves to risk my life on their behalf?
The author is a lone combat soldier from New York, who volunteered for duty in the Israeli Army. To follow his journey through the IDF, visit his blog at AmericaninIsraeliarmy.com