With the “Tal Law” having officially passed into the annals of history Tuesday
night, tens of thousands of haredi (ultra-Orthodox) yeshiva students are now
subject directly to the decisions of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is
authorized by law to draft every man of military age in the country.
that in mind, The Jerusalem Post ventured into the haredi neighborhood of Mea
She’arim in Jerusalem to get some of these yeshiva students’ perspectives on the
prospects of enlistment, and their views on the army and national service in
Generally reticent to speak to the media at all, the
interviewees were unwilling to give their real names and provided alternative
handles for themselves.
“Yossi,” 19, lives in Jerusalem and studies in a
yeshiva in the haredi settlement of Betar Illit. He would like to study for as
long as possible, but acknowledges that practicalities of life can interfere
with such plans.
Yossi – from the Lithuanian, or non-hassidic, haredi
community – says he does not intend to enlist in the army or for civilian
service. If he were to receive enlistment orders from the army, he says, he
would have to consult a rabbi about how to respond.
Asked whether or not
the country needs an army, he acknowledged that it was a national
“For sure, King David went to war and needed an army to do
so,” he said. “But his was an army and a country governed according to the
Torah; the IDF and the state are not.”
He explained that a Jew needed to
conduct every aspect of his life according to Halacha (Jewish law), and to do
otherwise was unthinkable.
“As someone who follows Halacha to the letter,
I can’t follow the orders of someone who has no idea how to conduct himself or
the army he commands according to the values of the Torah and Halacha. It’s
simply against my beliefs and my conscience,” he said. “The idea that [IDF Chief
of Staff Lt.- Gen.] Benny Gantz takes action and operates simply according to
what he thinks and feels [without regard for Jewish law] is crazy to my
The army does not need more soldiers at the moment, he went on to
argue, so there is no reason to enter the army on the grounds of pikuah nefesh,
a principle of Jewish law that allows the transgression of almost any
commandment or halachic precept in order to save a life.
If there were a
severe shortage of soldiers and the leading rabbis of the community permitted
it, he would enlist, but this is not the situation at the moment, he
Asked whether the notion of collective societal responsibility was
at all relevant to the situation, he invoked former American president John
Adams – if not by name, at least in spirit – arguing that the majority should
not be able to tyrannize the minority.
“Why should my beliefs and
principles be subverted to that of other people? Are we living in Czarist
Russia?” he asked.
“Maybe their beliefs should be subverted to mine? If
there were a majority of haredim in this country and we made everyone study
Torah eight hours a day or observe Shabbat, would that be okay?” he asked
rhetorically. “Just because the majority is the majority does not mean they can
do what they want to the minority. If the government outlawed Islam, would that
be okay?” Yossi said he could understand the frustration and resentment of
broader society that a section of the population did not serve, but added that
these feelings were only reasonable on a superficial level.
really about the army, it’s that they want haredim to integrate into Israeli
society and not to live in a ghetto. But if we want to live in a ghetto, then
that’s our right,” he said.
“Avraham,” a married 30- year-old Breslov
Hassid living in Musrara, took a generally different line.
surrounded here in the Land of Israel by hundreds of millions of people who hate
us,” he said. “In Iran, they have God knows what kind of weapons – in Syria,
too. Anyone who thinks we’re not being protected by God and that His protection
is not the most critical to us is absolutely out of their mind.”
moment, he said, they could all decide simply to descend on this country and
kill us to a man. The only reason they haven’t, he continued, is God’s
protection – but we have to merit his protection.
“Moshe,” a 23-year-old
Belz Hassid originally from Borough Park in New York and studying in the Mir
Yeshiva, said there was a real physical need for a national army to defend the
borders of the country.
But following Avraham’s line of argument, he
contended that were yeshiva students to be drafted into the army, it would
damage the country’s security, not enhance it.
“Surrounding us are 70
wolves ready to tear us limb from limb and devour us,” he said, echoing
Avraham’s sentiment that the country’s enemies could destroy it at any moment
“If someone says that the reason this doesn’t happen is
anything other than Gods protection, they’re crazy and need to be taken to a
mental asylum,” Moshe said.
But it’s not numbers that matter – it’s deeds
and behavior and the Jewish people serving God, he continued.
people survive only through God and adherence to the Torah,” he averred.
“Yeshiva students are an integral part of our spiritual defense, and so we must
not divert [them] from their spiritual activities.”
members of the political and military decision-makers are unlikely to agree with
many of the arguments expressed in Mea She’arim, the majority of yeshiva
students are for the meantime safe from the draft, given the logistical and
practical obstacles that drafting them would entail.
Barak stated on
Monday that he had ordered the army to draw up plans within four weeks to begin
drafting yeshiva students. He acknowledged, however, that different IDF tracks
needed to be increased and expanded to accommodate an influx of new recruits.