Think about it: ‘Kol Baramah’ and the law for military draft reform

Many of us seem to prefer to leave our children in ignorance about Judaism, under the mistaken perception that Judaism is nothing but traditional religious customs and practices.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef funeral 370 (photo credit: Koby Gideon/GPO)
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef funeral 370
(photo credit: Koby Gideon/GPO)
Most mornings when I switch on my portable radio, which is tuned to Kol Hamuzikah, the classical music station (91.3 FM), I get Kol Baramah instead, the Shas-oriented haredi station (105.7 FM in Jerusalem), which broadcasts under a concession from the Second (broadcasting) Authority.
This happens because the Kol Hamuzikah signal is weak, and the Kol Baramah signal is strong, but apparently also because the haredi station diverges from its assigned wavelengths, and thus swamps all other stations in its frequency vicinity.
The last time this happened to me, several days ago, Kol Baramah was holding a discussion on the bill relating to military draft reform (the so called “equal burden” bill), which was approved last Wednesday by the ad hoc Shaked Committee that prepared it for second and third reading in the Knesset plenum, due to take place within the next month or two. Since the discussion was very animated, I decided to stay tuned to the haredi station, and forgo my comfort zone in favor of widening my horizons.
The participants in the discussion, which took place within the framework of the Eight to Ten morning program of Kol Baramah presented by Mordechai Lavi, were all religious, from various sections of the Israeli Jewish religious community.
What struck me like lightning while listening attentively, was the vast quantity of sinat hinam (superfluous hatred) being spewed in all directions, but especially against the mizruhnikim (more about these below), and those wearing tiny skull-caps (the likes of Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett).
Finance Minister Yair Lapid was referred to as a simpleton and idiot (which many seculars also believe him to be), and someone even suggested that it would be in the interest of the haredim if he were to replace the crafty and conniving Binyamin Netanyahu (that is how he was referred to on the program) as prime minister. In addition, the ideals of liberal democracy were belittled and mocked.
All this was mobilized in favor of damning the new bill.
BEFORE I continue, I should like to return to the term mizruhnikim. My first guess was that the term came from the two Hebrew words mizrahiyim, and ruhaniyim – in other words, persons from Muslim-country origin who are spiritual. However, after looking the term up on the Internet I discovered that it was a derogatory reference to members of the national religious camp, who seek to integrate into general society rather than seek a more spiritual, halacha-oriented separatist path.
The word was apparently invented by haredi circles, on the basis of the names of the two original Ashkenazi national religious parties – Hamizrahi and Hapoel Hamizrahi – which preceded the establishment of the National Religious Party, Hamafdal, in 1956.
Several of the MKs from the old Mizrahi and Hapoel Hamizrahi were ordained Orthodox rabbis, who also had a higher general education in the arts and social sciences, or what some of my older religious friends refer to as hohmat goyim (gentile wisdom). I suddenly understood that the group of national religious Jews I always believed to be the only possible bridge between us seculars and the haredim and more extreme national religious groups, are actually damned by the latter, and are viewed by them as much worse than us tinokot shenishbu (captive babes).
However, what depressed me most was the apparent consensus among the participants in the discussion that the article which Lapid insisted on including in the bill, which speaks of criminal sanctions against haredim, who deliberately dodge the draft, implies turning study in yeshivot into a criminal act.
In fact, what the article says is that draft dodging, by anyone, haredim included, is a criminal offence. In other words, you have an absolute right to spend most of your life studying in a yeshiva, as long as you do not break the law regarding enlistment to the army, or any other law, along the way. What we have here is a dialogue between the deaf, at best, and a clear case of a false presentation of facts, at worst.
What was hardly mentioned in the discussion was why most haredim are unwilling to seriously discuss the enlistment of any haredi youths – not even those who do not study in yeshivot, or only pretend to study in yeshivot – to the army. To the best of my understanding the haredi spiritual leaders are afraid that any form of integration of haredi youths in general society is liable to cause many of them to start doubting their haredi way of life, by exposing them to other options, and that enlistment for military service is viewed as the worst danger of all. In other words, it is all about control.
What all this suggests is that the haredi population is being systematically misinformed about what the battle is really about, but also that the real issue is not whether at this juncture haredi youths should be forced to enlist under threat of criminal sanctions, but how the ever-growing haredi community sees its place within the State of Israel.
At the moment many of them are behaving as if they are still is the Diaspora, living in ghettos that reject the 18th- and 19th-century Jewish Enlightenment (haskalah) Movement, and 19th- and 20th-century Zionism.
What the secular society, and to a lesser extent the national religious community are trying to do, is to get the haredim to contend with the 21st-century reality, and start viewing themselves as an integral part of the State of the Jews, which at least at present is governed on the basis of the laws of the land, and not the halacha, but which allows everyone – including all the varieties of haredim – to live as they may see fit, as long as this is done within the confines of the law.
None of this suggests that it is not high time for the secular society to start considering seriously the question of what the implications of Israel being a Jewish state are, beyond the fact that every Jew may live here and get Israeli citizenship. Many of us seem to prefer to leave our children in ignorance about Judaism, under the mistaken perception that Judaism is nothing but traditional religious customs and practices, which lead to a particular illiberal and xenophobic ideology, rather than a history, an approach to life which is based on thousands of years of experience, and a rich and varied set of values and beliefs.
As to Kol Baramah I would suggest that the relevant authorities check whether the station is really broadcasting only on the frequencies allotted to it, and whether it is not in breach of the regulations of the Second Authority when it disseminates false information (i.e. that the military draft reform bill turns study in yeshivot into a criminal act), which is liable to lead to acts of violence.
Back in December 2010 complaints were lodged with the State Comptroller and the Communication Minister that Kol Baramah was in breach of the regulations because it did not enable women to speak on its programs.
This issue was partially resolved by Kol Baramah starting to broadcast special programs for women several hours a week (out of a total of around 130 weekly hours of broadcasting), which are presented by women. Perhaps the time has come to take a second look at the station’s practices.
The writer is a former Knesset employee.