Haredi IDF soldiers Tal Law 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Handout .)
Abba Eban’s declaration in 1973 that “the Arabs never miss an opportunity to
miss an opportunity” is well known. I believe it is time to adjust that quote.
As a person who grew up in the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world in Jerusalem and
serves as a rabbi and member of Knesset representing that population, it is
simply incredible how the haredi political and rabbinic leadership never miss an
opportunity to miss an opportunity.
The entire country is focused on the
issue of haredim not sharing the national responsibility of serving the country.
Two political foes, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Kadima leader Shaul
Mofaz, have decided to work together. Among the four things they could agree
upon was legislation to address this pressing issue. They agreed to form a
committee to make recommendations to the government and offered the haredi
parties representation on that committee. But they rejected the
The entire country is demanding change. The prime minister offered
the haredi leadership a chance to work together with him to formulate a policy
and a compromise. And the leadership let down its large numbers of more moderate
constituents and now will be forced to deal with whatever the committee
Of course, these “leaders” think that they will simply
threaten to leave the coalition and also not support the prime minister after
the next elections and that threat will cancel implementation of the committee’s
recommendations. This assessment is most certainly a mistake, but it is not the
most serious mistake they made in rejecting participation in the
committee. Their gravest error was abandoning large percentages of their
constituents, and, in the case of the Shas party, nearly all of their
THE HAREDI political and rabbinic leadership are completely
out of touch with the haredi street. While only 16 percent of haredi males
currently enlist in the army, a recent poll indicated that 41% would like to
serve! As a haredi, I can say with certainty that haredim feel uncomfortable
with the concept of others risking their lives while they do not contribute to
Haredim hear the cry of Moses. They know very well that
towards the end of the book of Numbers, twoand- a-half tribes requested to
remain on the eastern side of the Jordan River, and Moses responded, “Will your
brothers go to war while you remain here?” You may ask how I, as a haredi, can
say that the Torah learners are not contributing to the country? Aren’t they
studying Torah, which gives the country spiritual meaning, spiritual
justification and even the protection of the Almighty? Isn’t this their
contribution to the country, as haredi leaders always respond to criticism of
lack of participation in the nation’s needs? My answer is that of course, those
who truly study Torah day and night contribute to the country and they deserve
our full support and even exemption from IDF service. I have presented this idea
to audiences of all backgrounds, including non-observant Israelis, throughout
the country and all are in agreement.
But how many young men have the
drive, the dedication, the focus, and the skill to study Torah day and night
throughout their lives? The number is very small. Those elite and select few are
But all the rest are not serving the country and
must do so through their many non-learning hours.
I have spent
significant time discussing these issues with Defense Ministry officials and IDF
leaders and am well aware of the fact that the army is not prepared for tens of
thousands of haredi young men to be thrust into military service. This is why
national and community service will be acceptable forms of service to the
country and all populations accept this as a first step.
This system will
ensure that those who qualify to only study Torah will be exempt from other
forms of national service. The haredi leadership’s refusal to participate in the
Tal Law committee is actually a betrayal of those true Torah
This is a prime example of their “missing an opportunity” since
now they are subject to the whims of a committee consisting of MKs who do not
understand the Torah world and who will, no doubt, create an arbitrary number of
exemptions which will not ensure an elite group as I described above.
addition, they “missed an opportunity” to, perhaps for the first time,
demonstrate unity and working together with the rest of the country in finding a
solution and alleviating the ever-growing tensions in today’s Israeli
If I am granted that opportunity to serve on the new Knesset
committee, I will serve as the voice of the silent haredi majority that desires
to become part of Israeli society. The Tal Law did a disservice to the average
haredi who was trapped in that system and only deep inner strength and courage
empowered the 16% who enlisted to go against the norm.
It is time for the
rest of the country to free tens of thousands of young men from the “shackles”
the leadership has placed on them through reasonable legislation which ignores
the extremist haredi political leadership and heeds the silent call for fairness
and real contribution to society from haredi street.
So, while the haredi
leadership is, once again, letting a momentous opportunity slip by due to
extremist ideologies, I hope that we, as a nation, do not miss this
opportunity.The author is a member of Knesset, an ordained rabbi and the
chairman of the Am Shalem movement.