Haredim, the IDF and a stronger society

A tough compromise can help build unity in the IDF and Israel more broadly.

Haredi and IDF soldier Tal law Jerusalem 390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
Haredi and IDF soldier Tal law Jerusalem 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
Jonathan Rosenblum wrote a fascinating column expressing skepticism about the new plan to draft the rigorously orthodox into the IDF. But he underestimates both the Israeli military’s ability to absorb these new soldiers and the haredi community's ability to adjust to a new reality in which its former full-time students will become more complete members of Israeli civilian and military society.
Rosenblum is correct to criticize the government's decision not to implement the bill for four years. And he says that the delay means that "the impact of the new law will not be great." That could well be right – and that's sad. Israeli society is demanding that the imbalance inherent in the current situation be rectified right now. The faster that integration takes place, the greater the benefit for the broader Israeli society and the rigorously orthodox Jews as well.
A second Nahal battalion is "the upper limit of the IDF's ability to accommodate haredim in gender-segregated combat units," Rosenblum says. But the IDF can, will and indeed must flex; it reports to a civilian government, which in turn reports to a broad civilian society. I don't minimize the difficulty for the IDF in integrating thousands of new recruits with specific needs. But those recruits represent a powerful potential source of technological and other skills. And if the civilian government tells the IDF that it must do X or Y, the organization will respond.
To make this work, however, rigorously orthodox Jews will have to flex as well. Rosenblum says that because "women are integrated into every aspect of the IDF," the military would have to create a parallel army to accommodate the needs of the rigorously orthodox Jews, particularly gender segregation.
No. Here, in a national-security circumstance, military law must trump religious law. If and when circumstances dictate, haredi men will have to work with and sometimes take orders from women and women from men – yes, even when those fellow soldiers are secular. Outside the military, the rigorously orthodox can do and believe as they will. While they are under the military's jurisdiction, however, they will do what every other soldier must do. A haredi's refusal to comply with military regulations should be treated no differently from the refusal of a secular or national-religious soldier and must be similarly punished.
I do not for a moment minimize the impact of this proposal on the haredi community. And I am not suggesting that on their own time, rigorously orthodox soldiers need to fraternize with their opposite-sex counterparts. What I am saying is that while soldiers are on duty, one set of rules applies to everyone and orders properly delivered must be obeyed by all concerned. This enables a unified IDF.
Alternatively, those haredi men and women who can persuade IDF interviewing personnel that they absolutely cannot pick up and learn to use a weapon should be able to choose national service – two years for women and three years for men, no different from IDF requirements. But that national service must be mandatory, must be completed and must take place in venues of critical societal need: hospitals, soup kitchens, ambulances, road repair, what have you. And that national-service system must be administered by the civilian authorities, not by the religious ones. Again, one set of rules must obtain.
Important to point out, by the way, is that haredi society is not entirely segregated. For example, many women’s schools are run by men. So asking them to flex in the interest of a united military is not an immodest proposal. On the other hand, the haredim are relatively new to the military, so their standing to ask the IDF to make major accommodations for them is at best limited.
Finally, Rosenblum says that haredim "cannot be part of a unitary Israeli culture, many of whose values remain anathema to their own."
I have no problem with this, except, as I noted above, in the military environment, where everyone will have to play by the same set of rules. But by saying this unequivocally, Rosenblum is missing a huge opportunity to eliminate the secular-to-haredi nastiness that he properly decries.
Once the broader Israeli society gets used to the idea and fact of haredim in the IDF – in other words, once the rigorously orthodox soldier becomes the rule and not the exception – a great deal of the resentment and anger that arises from the current two sets of rules will dissipate.
Implicit in the idea that everyone should play by the same set of rules is the idea that taxpayers broadly are willing to pay the administrative and other costs required to integrate the haredim. Clearly, the broader Israeli society feels that that cost is worthwhile in exchange for the big economic boost that a newly empowered haredi community will provide.
Taxpayers will be more willing to again entertain the idea of larger child subsidies for larger families if they see the fathers of those families contributing as everyone else does to the broader society. Employers will be that much more willing to give good jobs to those new haredi employees, and both employers and their fellow employees will be more willing to flex to enable them additional time to study. Rosenblum's argument that a broader national-service system would "do little besides take jobs away from the lowest-paid workers" misses the benefits that thousands of new workers would bring to both haredi and non-haredi communities.
All sides must change the way they look at each other. Once the rigorously orthodox Jews are viewed not as selfish and uncaring but as fully inclusive members of society, albeit with certain special but reasoned needs, all of us will get along better and Israeli society will strengthen.
Robert Daniel is a former reporter and editor with MarketWatch.com and Bloomberg News. @bizraeli