Reporter's Notebook: Heavenly Tal?

Zionist MKs call for change in ‘Tal Law’ for haredi recruitment in Knesset plenum debate.

MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
In the current deliberations and disputations about the “Tal Law,” ultra-Orthodox MKs are doing their best to channel the spirit of our patriarch Isaac, who blessed his son Jacob thusly: May God bestow on you the Tal (dew) of the heavens and the fatness of the land.
But during a debate in the Knesset plenum on Tuesday to discuss the issue of haredi enlistment in the army, MKs more Zionistically inclined lined up one by one to call on the state to withhold its divine munificence, or at the very least subject it to a large dose of reform.
RELATED:Mofaz labels ‘Tal Law’ a failure
Avishai Braverman of Labor took to the podium first and in his professorial style, inveighed against the economic reality in which, as he related, it pays more for a married yeshiva student to stay in full-time Torah study than it does for him to go to the army.
Citing Talmudic aphorisms and Jewish law, which became something of a fad during the debate, the honorable professor appealed to the broader Knesset to gird its loins in order to save Israeli society from irreparable fragmentation, by creating a more equitable system in which the citizens of the state will share the burden of national service.
“The day is short, the task is great, the workers are lazy, and the Master of the house is insistent,” Braverman intoned, quoting Rabbi Tarfon’s famous maxim.
The day, it would seem, is the current Knesset session – he called for a new law before its end. The task: getting haredim into the IDF. The workers, clearly the 120 distinguished members of the Knesset. But the Master of the house? Given the prime minister’s support for the Tal Law, it seems unlikely that the Labor MK was comparing Binyamin Netanyahu to God.
Possibly he meant Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, but the Speaker had already left the plenum, so wasn’t present to hear the compliment.
Turning to the assembled ultra-Orthodox MKs, Braverman reminded them of the halachic rulings of the revered sage of the Middle Ages, Moses Maimonides.
“Torah without work will lead to idleness,” quoted Braverman, following up with another Maimonidean reference on the subject, “Anyone who makes himself dependent on charity causes a desecration of God’s name.
If haredi MKs Moshe Gafni (UTJ) and Nissim Ze’ev (Shas) and fellow haredi friends were impressed by this scriptural and halachic knowledge, they didn’t show it.
Gafni in particular, who became the general target of those denouncing the Tal Law, seemed rather disinterested in the whole affair.
Uri Orbach of Habayit Hayehudi, adorned with rain jacket and mustache, took to the stage after Braverman’s lecture, and in rather technocratic terms spelled out how the situation must be changed. Nevertheless, he said, coercing the haredi community would not bring about social harmony either.
Braverman nodded in paternalistic agreement.
Next up was Yohanan Plesner of Kadima, manicured, prim and riding gallantly to the aid of the State of Israel in a passionate fury.
“Mr. Prime Minister, it is not good enough,” he thundered, or perhaps thought he did.
“We demand that a new vision be established, for an obligation of service through which we can stand shoulder to shoulder and deal with our economic and security threats,” he declared.
Noting Gafni’s continued indifference, and affronted at how his Churchillian tones were totally lost on the powerful chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, Plesner chided the UTJ man for his vacillations on the issue at hand. “Sometimes you’re for it, sometimes against, will you make your mind up?” he asked petulantly. Gafni, who didn’t look up, appeared to be texting under his desk.
Einat Wilf of Independence brought perhaps the only seriously revolutionary idea to the table. With no small measure of grace, dignity and melancholy, she suggested that if there are communities not contributing to the Zionist foundations of the country and its well-being, then maybe they should be set free to manage their affairs by themselves without the interference, or financial support, of the state.
For reasons known only to himself, Ya’acov Katz (National Union) decided to inform the sparsely occupied Knesset plenum during his address that he would love to give birth but noted that “I’m just not built that way.”
Perhaps he thought he was in the Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women and that the burden that everyone keeps saying needs to be shared is something different entirely?
Einat Wilf certainly looked rather bemused. Katz’s only real achievement in his bizarre harangue was to get Gafni’s attention. “Rabbi Gafni, I’m talking to you, listen!” he demanded, his Father Christmas beard nevertheless lending his request an air of geniality.
Ze’ev, for a second day running, berated the populism of the many Knesset members, who he said are simply afraid, frightened by the “insufferable situation” of the hundreds of thousands of haredim in the country who continue to grow in number.
“Haredim are saving the Jewish character of state,” he averred. “There would be no population growth without haredim but the state wont disintegrate because the Torah unites us.”
Preserve the Tal Law, he implored. The haredi community is already undergoing a social change, he continued and pointed to the professional testimony of experts in Monday’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee hearing, who argued that the widely denigrated law has made real, if insufficient achievements in drafting ultra-Orthodox men into different forms of national service.
And what of Gafni? He mildly demurred to proffer his own thoughts, rising above the cut and thrust of his peers. Maybe he’ll deign to tell Plessner what he thinks in the coming months. The debate continues.