Jewish Atheist

An agnostic atheist perspective
from a once orthodox Jew.

Israel, Army Service, And Yeshiva Students

There is currently a huge battle going on in Israel over whether or not yeshiva {jewish seminary} students should continue to be allowed an exemption to the otherwise mandatory army draft.

About 17 percent of ultra-Orthodox men now serve in the military or perform civilian national service work; 75 percent of other Jewish men serve in the military. - NYT

Currently fewer than 10 percent of eligible Haredi men are conscripted into the Israel Defense Forces annually and the number of those doing national service remains tiny. - Ha’aretz

Currently, PM Netanyahu is pushing for a new law that would enlist 30% of the charedim {ultra-orthodox} by 2015, and another 30% for “sheirut le’umi" {non-military service for the state} {Ha’aretz}.

Israelis protest for "equal [national] service for all"

Israelis say that it’s unfair that they should fight and dedicate 3 years of their lives to the state while yeshiva students shirk the responsibility; the ultra-orthodox jews contest that their learning is helping protect the state and that enlisting would force them to compromise their religious values.

"We are part of the Jewish army," said Aharon Grossman, 30, a Mir Yeshiva student. "Some people serve in tanks. We serve in yeshiva." -PressHerald

More than the IDF, it is Torah study that protects us. In spite of our intractable geopolitical predicament, the state is still afloat — but only because so much Torah is studied here. -Blog - Times of Israel

If you ask me, honestly, I think the ultra-orthodox are very much in the wrong here.

1. “We are citizens of one state, and we must all participate in bearing the burden of service to the state.”- Netanyahu  {NYT} Simple as that.

2. While it’s a cute idea that the torah learning is helping to protect everyone, until it’s demonstrated to work, it should be given as much credit as astrology - i.e. none. {See this too.} Seriously, there are people in gun fights and you’re sitting in yeshiva learning about ox goring? No. That’s not fair - or even remotely sensible.

Meanwhile, many charedim resent being considered parasites for their philosophy:

"This (haredi) public that has Hasdei Naomi (charity for indignant children), Yad Sarah [a free service to help the disabled], Hatzolah [a free ambulance service]– consider for a moment whether that kind of public is ‘worthy’ of the title of parasite or perhaps behind it all there are values and principles." - Ynet

The Hareidi community is angry that its contribution to the Jewish State goes unrecognized. That so many want to draft Yeshiva students, in their eyes, reflects a lack of appreciation in the society as a whole for the value of Torah study, not only for the learner, but for the community. They say the problem is not with them but with the lack of true traditional Torah perspective in the largely secular nation…

If you want the nation to support your learning as in the best interest of the State of Israel show that your learning is indeed about caring for the Jewish People as a whole and the survival of the Jewish State. You can’t make a peace for yourself and then expect others to appreciate that what you are doing is for them… - The Torah And The Self

And I can appreciate where they’re coming from and I understand that from their perspective, they’re doing the right thing and probably not trying to be “parasites.” It is a fact that many religious jews do lots of self-less acts of charity. However, aside from only representing a fragment of the charedi population, it more importantly does not dismiss the very serious ways in which the charedi community is not contributing but taking. It’s like having a flat-mate that doesn’t pay rent but helps wash the dishes. Sorry, but that doesn’t cut it. You may have good intentions, but you are, by objective reckoning, taking much more than you’re giving. That’s parasitic behavior, whether you like it or not.

3. There are religious units in the army! I can understand the charedi {ultra-orthodox} concern about their conditions, but there are “kosher” ways to do it. Also, sorry if your ridiculous standards don’t conform to reality. In reality, people sometimes have to do things they don’t want to - especially when people are trying to kill them.

4. There’s also the possibility of “sheirut le’umi” which is working for the state. This has been a common route for charedi women, and while not as fair as army service, at least it’s something! And hell, even the Arabs who live in Israel and often don’t have 100% citizenship do this!

Arabs generally do not serve in the Israeli military, but the number performing national service has increased tenfold in recent years, and some polls have shown that a majority of Israeli Arabs support requiring such service as a way to better integrate into Israel’s work force. -  NYT

5. On a related note, I have to agree with some of the points made a blogger who emphasized that Israeli’s would probably be less resentful of the charedi lifestyle if the charedim actually demonstrated any allegiance and empathy for the state.

The Hareidi Yeshiva world may say they are learning Torah as a gift to the defence of the nation, but what they do shows otherwise. This is no Yissachar-Zevulun model. No one experiences a sense of partnership. The bnai yeshiva learn for themselves. If they cared for the Israel as a whole, if they were learning to do their part in the national defence then why no effort to reach out to the larger community? Why no ‘mishebairach’ [prayers] in the black hat yeshiva for the soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces? This is a case of ‘show, don’t tell!”. If you want the nation to support your learning as in the best interest of the State of Israel show that your learning is indeed about caring for the Jewish People as a whole and the survival of the Jewish State. You can’t make a peace for yourself and then expect others to appreciate that what you are doing is for them… - The Torah And The Self

Of course, one can find many yeshiva students who are thankful for the IDF and their work {“Honestly, we really do appreciate those who give their lives to protect us and our families, but we also do our part, maybe on an even higher level, with true faith that the Torah protects the land (of Israel).” - Ynet}. However, being thankful isn’t enough, and, of course, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. You can also find vast communities in Israel who don’t even recognize the state, let alone work to support it! And they often consider any such service as being completely antithetical to their beliefs. That’s pretty fucked up, and if I was an Israeli, I’d be rather pissed.

Ultra-Orthodox men protest against the universal draft initiative. The sign reads, ‘It is better to die than to transgress the prohibition against joining the army, civic service or national service.” (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90) - Blog - Times of Israel


Some children waved signs reading “Save me” – a reference to the possibility that they will be drafted when they turn 18…
Edat Haredit is an extremist ultra-Orthodox sect that does not recognize the State of Israel Speaking from an improvised stage, a [speaker] told the crowd, in Yiddish, “Even if they lock us up and beat us, we will remain Jews who observe the Torah and the mitzvahs.”.. - Ynet

And aside from protesting against what seems to me like an obviously equitable change, there are even some jewish religious leaders that are apparently threatening the state!

Rabbi Baruch Genot, a leading student of the number two haredi leader Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky who is a prominent rabbi in the haredi city of Elad, threatened to instigate a run on Israel’s banking system in response to any government decision to draft haredim into the army, the Times of Israel reported today

“If the entire haredi community withdrew all its money from the banks on a given day, the banks would face a possible collapse,” Genot said… “You want to sanction us for protecting you [i.e., for learning in yeshiva, which haredim believe provides the Land of Israel with spiritual protection from enemy attacks], we can also sanction you,” Genot said… Genot’s remarks were reportedly made to the Orthodox weekly publication Besod Siah.

The threats Genot made appear to amount to sedition. - FailedMessiah

Yet they expect exemptions and welfare and respect?

6. I’ve read lots of religious arguments saying that jews always had their established learners and those who would go fight {or work - like the Yissachar-Zevulun model} {e.g. here }- but the difference is that those arrangements were accepted by all. This isn’t. Israeli’s are pissed.

If ever there were a time to change the system, it is now, activists say. A poll generated by Hiddush, an organization that advocates for religious freedom, found that 68 percent of Israeli Jews want to deny subsidies to those who don’t serve in the army, while 82 percent want a law requiring most yeshiva students to enlist.- JewishWeek

Police said about 10,000 people took part in the protest [for fair drafting laws], but local media put the number at 20,000. The marchers held up signs that read “Equal service for all” and chanted “One people, one draft”. - Reuters [see photo above]

Of course, some have deluded themselves into thinking that Israelis are totally fine with the current arrangement:

Israel’s haredi Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who is the head of the Sefardi haredi Shas political party, reportedly told Israel Radio today that “most [non-haredi] Israelis don’t think they’re suckers for joining the army [even though haredim adamantly refuse to serve and study in yeshivas instead, often for decades, subsidized by the government]. They understand that those who study in yeshivas work very hard. Studying the torah is a legitimate way of serving the state.”

There is no credible polling or other data to back Yishai’s claim of support by non-haredi Israelis of haredi draft dodging or yeshiva study. - FailedMessiah

Clearly Israelis are pissed that they’re giving their blood, sweat, tears, and time while yeshiva students study torah - often while collecting welfare from the state. {PressHerald}

7. The charedi way of life is just not sustainable. You can’t live in a state that has a mandatory draft and simply exempt yourselves. You can’t opt not to work and simply live off of welfare. And you definitely can’t do either of those while pumping out babies by the handful. It’s simply a model divorced from reality. Aside from being unethical, this charedi lifestyle simply isn’t sustainable and needs to change.

Unemployment believed to hover around 50 percent, coupled with a high birthrate, has fueled deep poverty in the ultra-Orthodox sector. With families of eight to 10 children commonplace, more than a quarter of all Israeli first-graders today are ultra-Orthodox. Experts say if these trends continue, Israel’s long-term economic prospects are in danger. - {PressHerald}

I’ll include in this the closing off of one’s own mind from education. {For instance, at a protest against the changes in draft policies, a speaker “took advantage of the opportunity to criticize the attempts to obligate haredi educational institutions to teach the core subjects, calling them “devoid of any content.” -Ynet} This willful ignorance is damaging to the individual and society. For instance, in trying to help the charedim and their religious sensitivities, there has been discussion of training them for non-combat positions:

Currently Haredim serve in a variety of forms in the IDF, mostly in units encompassing only ultra-Orthodox men. Some are combat units, but a new option includes the assignment of Haredi men aged 22-24 to technology based roles, mostly in the air force and in military intelligence. - Ha’aretz

What the IDF does need are specialists, Cohen said, and the vast majority of haredim “lack the educational qualifications to operate and maintain high-tech machinery, especially when glitches occur. That requires technological literacy.” - JewishWeek

And, of course, if charedim had a better education, there’d be more job opportunities and they’d potentially be less reliant on state welfare - if they are actually willing to work.

8. It seems the charedi community has become spoiled and way too hyperbolic. For one, how did the exemptions begin?

"The draft exemptions date to the time of Israel’s independence in 1948, when founding father David Ben-Gurion exempted 400 exemplary seminary students to help rebuild schools of Jewish learning razed in the Holocaust, when 6 million Jews were murdered."

That seems fair and I don’t think that’d bother Israelis then or now. But what’s the current situation?

As ultra-Orthodox parties became power brokers, the numbers mounted. Ultra-Orthodox officials now estimate there are about 100,000 full-time Torah learners of draft age - PressHerald

That’s around 200x as many people, and in a very different day and age. The original rationale for the exemptions seems outdated and bloated beyond belief. And then there’s the hyperbole, as you’ve seen quoted earlier, making national service sound like the gulag. For instance, the charedim organized their own protest against the draft changes:

And in a sign of what may lie ahead, thousands of black-clad ultra-Orthodox took to the streets of Jerusalem last week to protest the panel’s work [on changing draft laws]. Some wore sacks in a sign of mourning over the prospect of being forced into service…. - PressHerald

Mourning? Really? I also loved this one:

More than the IDF, it is Torah study that protects us. In spite of our intractable geopolitical predicament, the state is still afloat — but only because so much Torah is studied here. It’s high time that we realized the spiritual value of yeshiva study. Yeshiva students tap into a vein of the most rarefied and sublime of wisdoms: Hashem’s only Law. When we start to value this instead of scorning people who refuse to buy into the prevailing values of superficiality, hedonism and materialism, we’ll stop devising schemes to put the Haredim in green and give them the respect they deserve.
- Blog - Times of Israel

Lady, no-one is asking that charedim “embrace hedonism” {and thanks for that subtle insult}. They’re just being asked to contribute their fair share.

It kinda reminds me of the recent uproar over Germany’s “circumcision ban.” Sorry, but fair and ethical is fair and ethical. No-one is saying that you can’t get a bris or study torah, but only dismember those who can agree to it and study torah on your own free time and on your own dime.

Handcuffed Ultra Orthodox Jewish children participate in protest against attempts to draft members of the cloistered community into the Israeli military, in an ultra Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem, Israel, Monday, July 16, 2012. The sign in Hebrew reads: “if you not let us live as Jews we’ll die as Jews but we’ll never surrender to serve military or civilian service”-Source

(Source: jewishatheist)

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