An ultra-Orthodox perspective on army service

I don’t mean to deny the presence of the devout, committed religious Zionist soldiers in Nachal Haharedi, but rather to point out that they represent a tiny minority.

Haredi mass prayer rally in Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Haredi mass prayer rally in Jerusalem
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
There were Jews in the land of Israel prior to the British Mandate. But which Jews? There was Yosef Caro (1488-1575 – author of the book of Jewish law), Rabbi Yehuda Hahassid who came to Israel with his following in 1700, the disciples of the Vilna Gaon and the Baal Shem Tov in the 1700-1800’s, as well as Sephardi immigrations.
What kind of Jews were they? None of the aforementioned rabbinic experts in Jewish law aspired to create a modern religious state with mandatory military service. They certainly did not aspire to create a state which would through coercive measures enroll the children of Orthodox Sephardi immigrants in secular schools with clear and successful ideological aspirations. They did not foresee an army the two objectives of which were to defend the State of Israel and to mold its soldiers into the modern Israeli “new Jew” lifestyle which the early Zionists envisioned.
What was done to the very religious Yemenite immigrants and their children was unspeakable.
The secular anti-haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews and non-Jews living in Israel who support the terrible injustice of imprisoning haredim for not serving in the army need to remember their place as relative newcomers. Without being condescending, their immigration to the holy land was unwelcome by the native religious Jewish population, because of their lifestyle and its negative influence on spirituality.
The lifestyle of the descendants of the Old Yishuv (early Jewish settlement) needs to be respected.
THE MOST religious unit in the army is Nachal Haharedi. I served there. I can testify personally to the overwhelming majority of haredi dropouts; national-religious men who keep Shabbat and the laws of kashrut but are otherwise almost entirely absorbed in secular youth culture.
The overwhelming majority have unrestricted Internet, the immodesty of which they enjoy and pass around to their friends. Television and movies are officially forbidden, yet they simply remove these at the time of inspections, after which it is returned. My spirituality and religious observance was definitely reduced as a result of my experience there, the details of which I was ignorant of when I enlisted.
I don’t mean to deny the presence of the devout and committed religious Zionist soldiers in that unit, but rather to point out that they represent a tiny minority.
Now contrast this to the haredim, whose lifestyle is similar to that of the Old Order Amish. Both groups have very assertively adopted the principle that secular exposure results in reduced religious observance.
The modern Orthodox Jews and the New Order Amish have a high defection rate. The Old Order Amish and haredi Jews, on the other hand, who go to great lengths to distance themselves from modernity, secular influence and westernization, instead opting for self-imposed isolation, enjoy large families with very few dropouts.
Again, secular society needs to realize that it must respect the minority groups that arrived in the holy land hundreds of years before them. Secular society needs to realize that our lifestyle is not consistent with mandatory army service at such a young, impressionable age – just like the Americans recognized this right for the Quakers, Amish, haredi Jews and other devoutly religious groups even during times of war.
However, if appropriate and respectful religious accommodations are made, voluntary military service in a haredi unit may be an attractive consideration for some ultra-Orthodox groups and individuals.
This would foremost include a strict selection process of who enters and who does not enter based on religious observance, similar to that of a good ultra-Orthodox yeshiva.
With the impressive capability to fly a plane without a human being inside it, are we really so short on manpower that we urgently need the haredim in the army? My army experience would call that notion into question.
Does the army need all of the manpower that it currently has from a mandatory draft for everybody with so few official exceptions? I don’t pose this as a rhetorical question, but as a question that should be analyzed not by Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party but rather by experts whose information is objectively viewed and checked for accuracy.
I know what you all are thinking. Maybe if we take a passive stand, the ends will justify the means. The haredi community will stop being a burden on the rest of us workers.
Coerced army service will result in haredi integration into broader Israeli society! Before searching for a solution to a problem, let’s analyze whether or not the problem really exists. Basic facts: The haredi community consists of approximately 30 percent Lithuanian-style Jews who go to extreme measures to have the man of the house be a spiritual figure and influence on his family, who learns Torah full-time. This community thereby produces the greatest Torah scholars in the world.
The second are the Sephardim who represent about 20% of the ultra-Orthodox population. They are largely influenced by the former group while retaining their own identity as well. In terms of working, they recognize the former group’s long-term learning aspiration to be the ideal, but they go to work a lot quicker when money is short and the family size grows – most of them do at least.
The largest group is the Hassidim – a more spiritual group only slightly less focused on Torah study – who represent about 50% of the haredi population.
The vast majority of their men go to work a short number of years after getting married and learning in Kollel (full-time yeshiva for married Jewish men). The women of all three of the aforementioned groups work to support their families as well.
Where can these so-called working ultra-Orthodox be found if not in Tel-Aviv or the center of town in Jerusalem? First of all, we cannot disregard the many employed educators in their education system, which they view as being extremely precious and the top priority. These schools, as well as the yeshivot where bachelors and married men learn, are funded largely by donors from the Diaspora.
This money, which is injected into the Israeli economy, is not only spent inside the haredi community. Every time that a haredi buys a house, diapers and all of the products necessary for their many children, they pay state taxes on each item. This foreign money which is attracted to Israel is spent on gas, water bills and food which ultimately supports non-haredi farmers and the general Israeli society.
The fact that the largest concentration of ultra-Orthodox Jews and rabbis exists in Israel attracts countless haredi Jews as well as modern Orthodox Jews, who buy in the ultra-Orthodox shops. These Jews come as short-term tourists as well as long-term yeshiva students, who get money from their parents.
That foreign money is also great for the Israeli economy.
That is a very important side point.
Other jobs that haredi men are employed in include ritual animal slaughter, Torah and Tefillin scribes (whose products are marketed to the entire Jewish world inside and outside the country as well as non-Orthodox streams of Judaism), diamond stores, grocery stores, brokering agencies, religious book stores – you name it, it can all be found in the haredi community.
Just come to places like Rabbi Akiva street in Bnei Brak or Malchei Yisrael in Jerusalem.
Be our guest, but dress modestly in order to respect our lifestyle.
My friends in the Religious Zionist community, which I respect and used to be a part of, I want to ask you something: Do you really still think we are a burden on Israeli society? We pay taxes like everybody else. Before the Lapid led anti-haredi campaign, the ultra-Orthodox were taking NIS 3.5 billion from the total national Israeli budget of NIS 400b.
That’s less than 1% of the nation’s resources going to 10% of Israel’s population. Most of this funding is for things which the socialist Israeli government supplies to all Israelis – like health care, or education (which haredim get much less of per student relative to the secular university/grade school students).
The non-haredi public takes NIS 16b. shekels for their crime problems alone, which comprise a gamut of offenses such as thievery, mafia car bombings, drug offenses, with costs going to court trials, prison services, and so on. There are many other examples of secular Israelis receiving money which we don’t get and/or don’t need, but that should suffice.
As you can check for yourself at Israel’s central bureau of statistics, the only meaningful increase of Jews in the country (and yes, they happen to be Jews practicing Judaism) is from the haredi community. To be more exact, 35,000-40,000 haredi babies are born each year with only a few thousand ultra-Orthodox deaths. If we don’t join the struggle to stop this Lapid fellow who is violating religious and human rights, the ultra-Orthodox will leave the country as fugitives, and it will be the secular/ Religious Zionist birthrate against the Beduin and Arab demographics. This is not a threat which I am proposing but rather an ultimatum which many haredi rabbis, with their steadfastly loyal communities, have proposed. Claim its unrealistic, and I will reply by saying that Lapid’s success in passing this horrible decree, was also thought to be unrealistic.
The author studied at the Machon Meir and Ohr Sameach yeshivot, and served in the Nachal Haredi army unit.