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Don’t Draft the Ultra-Orthodox

Israel should abandon its plan to make the ultra-Orthodox join the army and give them all jobs instead

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Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem on June 25, 2012, at a protest against lifting the law that exempts ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students from mandatory military service. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Let’s assume, then, that by some act of divine intervention all of the young ultra-Orthodox men voluntarily agree to trade their black coats for olive-green uniforms. If they turn to serve as noncombatants, they’ll soon find themselves—like many other noncombatant soldiers in the current IDF—doing little more than idling away their time. If they turn to serve as combat soldiers, they’ll be just as unnecessary. According to most assessments, it takes about seven months to satisfactorily train an effective infantryman, assuming that the trainee has a reasonable background of physical activity and is in passable shape. Yeshiva boys, for the most part, lead radically sedentary lives, and many do very little by way of exercise; it’s likely that they’ll need significantly more time to adjust to life as hill-storming, machine-gun-toting warriors. With the mandatory service capped at 36 months, the longer it takes the IDF to train a soldier, the less time said soldier has to serve actually performing his duties. Here, too, the ultra-Orthodox would be nothing but a further burden on the system.

I could go on and on. I could note that of those Israelis who fail to fulfill their military obligations, less than 20 percent are ultra-Orthodox. And I could mention that the rate of ultra-Orthodox voluntarily joining the IDF is on the rise: Since the army launched a program designed to accommodate fervently religious soldiers in 2007, more than 1,700 ultra-Orthodox men joined up of their own accord, leading the state comptroller to issue a report this year and state that “the IDF has met the goals set by the government [for voluntarily enlisting ultra-Orthodox soldiers], and then some.” I could even quote some of Israel’s leading pundits—like Ofer Shelah, a former officer and one of the country’s most revered journalists—in support of turning the IDF into a well-paid, all-volunteer army, which would probably make it leaner and more efficient. But the most valid argument, perhaps, is not factual but ideological: Israelis shouldn’t insist on drafting all ultra-Orthodox young men because there is no inherent value in military service as such. Military service, like paying taxes, is a necessity in a country like Israel. It’s the sine qua non of collective life in the Jewish state. Therefore, the state must make sure that it maintains an excellent and ever-ready army. To do that, it must consider military service a duty, but it should never regard it as a virtue.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the mindset of too many today, which is a pity. If Israelis abandoned this approach and thought rationally instead, they may discover far superior solutions. A good start might be directing these scores of religious students not to army bases but to, say, computer schools: A mind trained in reading line after line of scripture and closely following the most minute details should have no problem adjusting to computer programming, or data entry, or any number of useful professions. Like most countries in the world, Israel, too, is experiencing a severe shortage of qualified software savants who can write code; it has at its disposal 50,000 preternaturally gifted candidates for this job precisely. Train them, and the ultra-Orthodox will help grow the economy, bettering themselves at the same time. As they’re currently the most impoverished sector of society, and subsist primarily from federal funds, their new-found wealth might mean that they’ll depend less on the state, which would mean lower taxes for everybody. Israelis would have to be total freiers to pass up on such an opportunity.

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fred lapides says:

you love your country enough to want to live there then you should be willing and required to serve and to defend it.

Sorry there is no other acceptable outcome to the majority of Israelis. There is a level of fairness that every society needs, and as the Charedim become an ever increasing percentage of the country it is unacceptable that my children should serve and theirs should not. If they do not want to serve there are many other places in the world to live, I am sure the other places will not be so generous supporting their institutions while they do not contribute. Yes its important that they join the work force, but they must first accept their obligations as citizens. The American cry no taxation without representation needs to be changed- to no benefits and representation without service

I don’t think anyone really wants to force haredim into the IDF. What we Israeli taxpayers want is to deny haredi the “pork” they steal via their coalition-hogging MKs. This includes monthly stipends, exemption from arnona taxes, free medical care, and child supplements.There is something sick and perverted about Israeli taxpayers who serve in the IDF having to pay for tens of thousands of families whose fathers refuse to work or even gain the basic skills to hold down a job. It is outrageous that a ‘kolel man who takes no exams, shows no proof of progress, contributes zero to the treasury and will not work to put food on his table, gets a monthly stipend from the government while a combat veteran has to pay tuition to go to university where he is studying to become a productive member of society. And the ONLY reason we citizens suffer this grand larceny is because the twisted system of coalition politics makes it expedient for the supposed party in office to trade our money for haredi votes. Has there ever been a worse example of the tail wagging the dog?

Rina Tziona says:

So, they want the rights to decide who is a Jew and who isn’t, but they don’t want to defend the country and they do want to send those they don’t consider Jewish or Jewish enough to their possible deaths? Sounds like a plan! NOT! If these guys were studying to do something worthwhile, such as serve their communities as rabbis or something, then maybe. But, they’re not doing this. They’re studying for their own selves, nothing else. They don’t plan to teach, they don’t plan to lead a community, they plan on studying for their own selves and nothing more. Draft them. Get them off of welfare. Make them get real jobs, just like the sages before them did.

While the article makes some good points about issues that the State
will have to address, there are always issues of how best to use people
with different levels of fitness or different skill sets. These
challenges do not mean that Israel should continue to exempt the
Haredim.

From a fairness perspective, especially with a growing Haredi (and Arab)
population, Israel should ensure that all of its citizens share the
obligation of serving in its military or other form of national
service. If some of these Haredim are better suited to computer roles,
there are certainly available options in the Army or in other forms of
national service. It is offensive to say that Conservative and Reform
Jews are trying to coerce the Haredim into giving up their religious
beliefs. The Torah is filled with laws pertaining to the obligation to
defend Am Yisrael.

Further thoughts about this:

http://www.torontotoranana.blogspot.ca/2012/06/israel-to-draft-ultra-religious-and.html

Its not only the ultra orthodox that need to serve in the IDF, also the Israeli Arabs and most of all the Gush Dan Israeli Jews that find anyway possible to avoid the draft. We should start with them, the rock stars, the performers, all of the Israelis who believe that they need not serve their country. Perhaps, one way would be to deny all financial perks to those Israelis, Jews and Arabs who are physically fit and still decide to opt out of the IDF?

lcsterling says:

Are you insane? The ultra-orthodox are the biggest threat to Israel’s safety. Put them in the trenches and they come down to earth.

David says:

This is dangerous. We should not train the Haredim in the use of firearms.
So far the State of Israel has been lucky. Its home-grown Taliban mostly uses verbal violence rather than physical violence to achieve its aims.
But these are not nice people, and religious zealotry does not necessarily restrain violence. Put guns in their hands, and within a generation the diaspora culture that has restrained them until now could fade away. The Temple fell because of causeless hatred, instigated primarily by the Sicarii — religious zealots willing and able to use violence against their fellow Jews. Listen to the rhetoric comming out of the Haredi community today — the Sicarii could arise again. Why encourge it?
I understand the sentiment behind the movement to conscript the Haredim into the army. But it is misplaced. Instead of empowering the Haredim by training them in the use of firearms, we should aim to diminsh their influence by cutting off the subsidies that have enabled them to produce large families without working for a living or contributing anything to society.

brynababy says:

Hear, hear to all the excellent comments below. No more free ride for the ultra-Orthodox!.

Service of some sort to one’s country should be a duty. I am sorry that the US abolished the draft. We were a ,more liberal and tolerant society when there was a draft. Americans got to know each other. Today most people barely know anyone outside their own State or region.


Like most countries in the world, Israel, too, is experiencing a severe shortage of qualified software savants who can write code; it has at its disposal 50,000 preternaturally gifted candidates for this job precisely.”

I agree that the Haredim need not go into the army but they should be obligated to perform some kind of service. Writing code is a worthwhile and very useful occupation, but they should also perform some kind of service in the outdoors.

Going from reading the Talmud all day to writing code is not much of a change.

There are I am sure many tasks they can perform which would expose them to outdoor life.

Agreed! You could soothe the resentment of the non-Orthodox simply by pointing out in public that the Haredi are *physically and mentally unfit* to serve in the armed forces. Conscripting them into technically non-military jobs — yes, such as computer programming — would indeed give them useful trades and get useful work out of them. Yes, ‘twould also be a good idea to abolish the monetary support the state has given those freeloaders so far.

–Leslie < Fish

UryV says:

May I explain why putting the Haredim to code software is a non-starter.

As anyone who has ever coded 10 lines of Basic knows, it requires some basic skills the Haredim do not have, by and large:

- To start, you have to know the Latin alphabet
- If you learned the letters, you need at least a smattering of English: “Store”, “Delete”, “Shift”, whatever
- You actually need to be able to read English, for all those technical manuals and bulletins.
- You need to know how the world actually works! Can someone who’s never started a car, write software to control a drone?

I could go on and on, but there’s a reason Tzahal spends a fortune cherry-picking graduates from technical high schools to send them through programmer school.

So maybe there really isn’t an instant solution to integrating the Haredim into the Army. But yes, they should be made to work – they and all the other healthy, young, childless freeloaders in this country. We should stop importing Chinese, Romanians, Filipinos, etc. to work in construction and agriculture, and also stop handouts to all those who, having dependents, can work but won’t. You don’t need a college degree to work in a hothouse. You don’t need to know English do drive a truck. Etc., etc. We trust market mechanisms to regulate a large part of our economy. It’s time we applied that to the labor market. Hey, without all that unfair competition from the Third World, it might even result in higher wages and less inequality.

JehudahBenIsrael says:

Sadly, the ultra-Orthodox in Israel, by and large, refuse to do military and/or national service; refuse to work; yet, demands that society sustains them financially; and, demand that society lifestyle will adhere to their demands.

Such attitude towards the society in which a community lives would not be tolerated in ANY liberal democratic country that Israel is, and they would not even dare acting the way they do in Israel.

One is not sure about the practical way out of the predicament in which Israeli society finds itself, but the demand of them is very much morally grounded, including within the context of Israel being the sovereign nation-state of the Jewish people. To demonstrate it: the national religious community in Israel – called in America “modern Orthodox”, as well as members of the Halachic oriented Masorti movement in the country certain do military service, work, are not sustained by public funds, and have total respect to all other Jewish communities in the country, realizing that we are one people in our single homeland and the only state we have, Medinat Israel.

mouskatel says:

Huh? Why should they be obligated to be outside? My husband served for 13 years as an upper level intelligence tech developer. He rarely saw the light of day in all those years. Why does that lessen his service in any way?

The IDF is a job for Haredim. They could teach in the arab schools inside Israel and the territories, with protection and force from IDF regulars. Teaching Judaism and dissecting muslim lies to the arabs, is a path to peace that has not been tried. Let’s try it.

shimon felix says:

How you can so blithely ignore the inherent and profound unfairness in the exemption of Charedim from the army is beyond me. The army does NOT have more than enough soldiers – with the Charedim serving, service could be reduced from 3 to 2 years, for instance, and people like my sons (and myself years ago) could do much less reserve duty, and have it easier at work or university. Most Israelis are suffering under the strain of the current situation – it is unthinkable that Charedim can hide behind a false, self-serving, profoundly un-halachic understanding of Judaism to ignore and escape the basic Jewish obligation to serve in the Israeli army. Which, by the way, is a virtue: it is always a virtue to do your fair share of shouldering your society’s greatest burdens.
Also, where do you get that “Charedim are less than 20% of all Israelis who do not serve” statistic? I guess you are including Israeli Arabs, who, by the way, should most certainly be treated as full citizens of Israel, which they quite correctly demand, and serve as well. There is no other way that they, or the Charedim, will ever be integrated into Israeli society, nor should there be.

David Olesker says:

What is it about this issue that drives out rationality? Let me cherry pick some comments from those listed below:

“Can someone who’s never started a car, write software to control a drone?” — Does anyone seriously think Haradim are forbidden to drive?

“Conscripting them into technically non-military jobs” — does that idea appear anywhere in the article being commented on?

“exemption from arnona taxes” — Where in Israel is there an exemption for arnona (municipal taxes) for haradim? Post the answer quickly because I’d like to move there!

“Put guns in their hands, and within a generation the diaspora culture that has restrained them until now could fade away.” — Pigs could fly and Ahmadinejad could start learning in Ponovich!

I’m not saying that proponents of universal conscription don’t have valid arguments, rather that when ever this subject comes up for discussion the floodgates of unreason are unlocked.

Accommodating mandatory paid national service is roughly equivalent to accommodating conscientious objectors, and has a long and honorable history.

The key words are “mandatory”, “paid” and “national service”.

Accommodating mandatory paid national service is roughly equivalent to accommodating conscientious objectors, and has a long and honorable history.

The key words are “mandatory”, “paid” and “national service”.

The only places in a post-zionist society where Jewish patriotism is actually taught and learned are yeshivos. Thus, the contribution of hareidim to the Israeli society as a Jewish society is met by no other. Ideally, everyone should both learn guemara and fight in צה”ל, like in the hesder yeshivot system but if one wants to contribute to Israel by learning AND teaching what makes us Jewish instead, then he/she should be encouraged to do so. It’s the highest form of civil service, when teaching is involved. Now, if one wants to contribute to Israel by serving in the army, he/she should also be encouraged to do so. Those are two legitimate and necessary forms of national service, and should be recognized as such by the arba-minim of the Israeli society.

You “could mention” this and you “could mention” that. Either mention it or shut up.

Here are
the facts of the matter…

The State
of Israel has approximately 6.4 million Jews. How many Rabbis and Yeshiva
students should be on the payroll ?

A Rabbi’s
job includes : Officiating at services for Shabbat; Holy Days; Counselling,
Mentoring; Being a fixed point of reference for a community; and assisting with
life cycle events like births, shidduchs, weddings, brit milahs, bar/bat
mitzvahs and deaths. If one Rabbi is needed per 1,000 people then this means
Israel currently needs 6,400 “Doctors of the Law”. (Rabbis’
remuneration : 40 weeks p.a. at Shul; 4 weeks Training; 8 weeks Holiday. Pay
$125,000 p.a.) You also need a reserve group of Rabbis to fill in when
permanent Rabbis take a break from their shuls. (1,000 in number). You also
need schochets, sofers and Rabbis skilled in divorce and funerals. (1,000 in
number). Not all Yeshivah students go on to become Rabbis so let’s say 1,000
spots could be reserved p.a. for those interested in becoming Rabbis. Some
attrition would be allowed to take place as people drop out of the course. Only
the best and the brightest, like with scholarship programs in the West would be
accepted. No more ersatz training by pseudo “important” institutions.
Lastly you need a core group of head Rabbis, i.e. A Sanhedrin of 71, plus an
administrative, management group to oversee the others of say 500. Total
Rabbis/Yeshiva Students needed p.a. = Approx. 10,000 (Should Diaspora Rabbis be
trained in Israel first ? Interesting question which would add to this number.
Funding issues arise also.) So if the State/Kingdom is to fund the education of
these yeshivah students the budget for this section of the population is
limited. (The private/public partnership model of funding for Rabbis and
institutions also has gotten messy. Too many crossed boundaries. The Sanhedrin,
Rabbis and Yeshivah Students should be true “Public Servants”, not
able to be or willing to be compromised.) These 1,000 Yeshivah Students would
be exempted from national military service. It is all about getting the balance
right. The 54,000 “exempted person’s” figure is out of kilter. The current
ratio is not what Ben Gurion envisaged at the time of the founding of the
state. In 64 years it has really blown out. It also is not the ratio that Moses,
if he was alive today, would recommend for a modern nation state/kingdom.

A nation
or kingdom needs to constantly monitor what types of jobs are necessary to keep
things ticking over. The financial relationship between the taxpayer sector and
the dependent sector which includes : Special Needs People; The Elderly;
Homeless; Prisoners; Sick and Injured; Infants; Adolescents; and Students also
needs to be monitored and managed properly so that resentment doesn’t build
between different sections. People don’t mind paying their taxes or
contributing “a shekel to the upkeep of the Temple” if everyone is contributing
to the best of their abilities.

The key
to a healthy economy and community is for everyone to contribute to the
national effort in some way, shape or form. If everyone shares the load the
burden becomes easier to shoulder.

Also, if
the State of Israel makes the right moves in the coming days, weeks and months
then the existential threats will diminish and the defence budget will be able
to be trimmed. (Think the Isaiah “Swords into plowshares” dynamic
kicking in.) So the Tal Law issue is connected to the larger geopolitical
picture.

Peripateti says:

“demands that society sustains them financially” “would not be tolerated in ANY liberal democratic country” oh you must mean the United States where only 49% pay taxes.

relozory@012.net.il relozory@0 says:

The stipends are 450 NIS/month for yeshiva students, that’s $1363/year.
Kollel stipends are 1040 NIS/month, that $3150/year.
But don’t forget that religious families FAR OUT PACE secular contributions to State coffers since they pay far more value added tax by virtue of much bigger families than secular folk. Secular political parties have managed to RUN AFTER religious parties in EVERY single kenesseth AND offer them “deals.” Is it stealing when leftist parties demand money for their “cultural” institutions which no one attends or do you only apply the term “theft” when religious Jews are involved?

relozory@012.net.il relozory@0 says:

Freeloaders? The state coalitions have RUN after the religious parties in every single coalition for their votes in exchange for demands JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER PARTY DOES! Are the secular parties, then, ALSO freeloaders???

relozory@012.net.il relozory@0 says:

Religious Jewish Israelis contribute by paying a much higher value added tax in volume due to their large families. Surverys show that ORTHODOX Jews around the world are far more likely to support Israel than nonorthodox Jews. Jewish demographics around the world show that nonorthodoxy is rapidly disappearing so soon, out of necessity, the Israeli army will HAVE to become orthodox in order to accommodate orthodox standards. I assume that female soldier abortion rates will drop sharply then.

relozory@012.net.il relozory@0 says:

Ah, so you think that POVERTY will reduce orthodox birthrates? Pharoah thought throwing their MALES into the Nile River would help.

relozory@012.net.il relozory@0 says:

17% of charedi youth went to the army last year. 14% of charedim serve in civil service. Our mishna says the world stands on 3 things: Torah, divine service/prayer & kindness. For some reason “real jobs” didn’t make the list, while Torah did!

relozory@012.net.il relozory@0 says:

There is currently an OVER surplus of charedim waiting to join COMBAT units, but the ARMY doesn’t know what to do with them.

relozory@012.net.il relozory@0 says:

Combat units are already filled. Most of the army is made up of jobniks.

relozory@012.net.il relozory@0 says:

17% of 18 yr old charedim enlisted last year.
14% of charedim do civil service.
SECULAR enlistment is way down between only 50-75%.
If the Masorti movement is halakhic-oriented, then why did they just condone male homosexual marriages which are CLEARLY against Jewish belief??? That’s respect???

relozory@012.net.il relozory@0 says:

Orthodox Jews are hardly getting a free ride. The secular parties pursue their votes for coalition purposes. Orthodoxy is not living in riches, but in poverty, where is the free ride?

relozory@012.net.il relozory@0 says:

The Israeli army is NOT accommodating to orthodox soldiers, forcing them to desecrate shabbath & listen to female singing against their ideologies. Charedim integrated into “society?” There are MANY societies in Israel, what’s the point of ‘integration?” Orthodoxy WANTS separate neighbourhoods where standards of modesty & shabbath etc are observed. Demographically, orthodoxy is poised to be the majority of Israel & then YOU will have to be “integrated” into orthodox society!

relozory@012.net.il relozory@0 says:

It’s never happened historically.

relozory@012.net.il relozory@0 says:

Does that mean that YOU should go indoors & learn Torah?

Quigly says:

This chutzpadik, intolerant essay is reminiscent of “white man’s burden”, condescending as it does to prescribe what secularists ought to impose on observant Jews to force them to “improve themselves”. Like the slaveholders of American yore, this bigoted blogger stereotyped Orthodox Jews as a physically unfit, mechanically thinking welfare camp. It’s a crying shame (though no longer a surprise) that Tablet affords such hateful slander a soap box.

Quigly says:

Fascinating–so you believe that the Temple functioned as the place where friendly secularists sacrificed animals, consulted the urim v’tumim and performed other such secular rituals the Temple was designed for while bad, bad religious people went postal and leveled the place?

Your anti-religious paranoia is evident in your nasty caricature of “the Haredim”, but I want to get a clearer picture of just how irrational and revisionist your hatred of your observant brothers and sisters gets.

Some of the posters here should be careful what they wish for. If, by
chance, tens of thousands of haredim were to be incorporated into the ranks of
the IDF, then you would soon hear complaints about how the haredim are seeking
to impose their own standards and values on the army (for instance, in regard to
gender segregation).

Secular protesters might then ask the Supreme Court
to intervene with, and declare illegal, any IDF accommodations with its haredi
recruits that could be deemed to violate principles of gender equality.

Under such a scenario, many haredi leaders are
correct in fearing that the issue of universal recruitment is being used by some
quarters as an agenda to undermine the demographic viability of the haredi
community in Israel, mostly by imposing secular values and standards through the
institution of mandated army service.

On a fundamental level, you can’t escape the issue
of segregation. If members of this community are to perform their allotted
share of national service – as they should – the state must ensure that they
can actually contribute valuable services while being assured that their
communal needs are safeguarded from unwanted secular influences.

One way to organically achieve that is to employ
orthodox recruits as programmers and engineers for the high tech sector,
alllowing them to contribute to the IDF’s technological base, while providing a
platform to integrate them into the economy.

And rather than enforce such recruitment drives –
which could be counter-productive in practice – simply make family stipends
conditional on this kind of service.

In the end, it is in Israel’s interest to ensure
that the haredim thrive with their large families. It’s all about Jewish
demography, and frankly, they’re the engine that keeps the Jewish population
robustly growing in the forseeable future. In the meantime, the national
religious continue to disproportionately fill the elite combat positions in the
IDF.

The main priority now is to resist the
self-destructive and myopic policies of radical secular leftist Israelis who
don’t fully appreciate why the children of the haredim are the future backbone
of the State of Israel. Yes, the current status quo isn’t viable – but let’s be
constructive and assure the haredim that we have their (and our) best interests
in mind – to help them contribute and thrive in Israeli society while protecting
the viability of their cohesive and growing communities.

17% (though I don’t know where you’re getting this statistic) is pretty laughable considering how many non-orthodox Jews serve (all or almost all). And I’d venture out to guess that both the writers and original readers of the mishna held “real jobs” and thought it was too obvious to have to point out.

I doubt this is true, but even if it was, it’s as the author points out – most haredim are in nowhere near the physical shape and stamina required of combat service.

The free ride is the fact that they have housing and food and clothing, even if it’s not fancy, despite not working a day in their lives.

You’re referring to federal income tax – the 51% who don’t pay that still pay sales taxes and likely various local taxes. But either way, most of that 51% is not demanding regular paychecks from the government for doing nothing while refusing to get jobs or learn any skills, and instead popping out a dozen kids per pair for the state to have to support, while trying to impose their restrictive beliefs and codes of dress and behavior on others.

is there blood worth more than other Israeli blood

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Don’t Draft the Ultra-Orthodox

Israel should abandon its plan to make the ultra-Orthodox join the army and give them all jobs instead

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