“A true participation in the [Israeli] draft will only take place based on a willing agreement and pact between Israeli society and the haredi community,” said Shas MK Aryeh Deri.

I agree. And that is why I am confused. Mandatory conscription of haredim has been a hot issue in Israel for years. And MK Deri is correct; the solution must be an agreement between all parties involved.

So why be contentious?

“I would not suggest to any Prime Minister that he confront hundreds of thousands of haredim [over the draft issue],” said MK Meir Porush of UTJ.

Why not? Most Israelis want this issue resolved and guess what? They think haredim should serve. The haredim can protest as much as they want, but Israeli society is changing and this issue ultimately needs to be dealt with.

Why not call their bluff?

If the haredim take the lead on this issue, they have everything to gain, very little to lose, and they will solve many problems within the haredi community as well.

Haredi leadership should demand – right now – mandatory conscription of all eligible haredim.

Think about what will happen.

First of all, if the haredi leadership takes the lead, they will be in a position to make demands. And they will probably get everything the want, including:

  • A complete and total exemption for women
  • An exemption for exceptional Torah scholars (many agree to this already, I heard Ehud Barak suggest the top 10%, I bet that can be boosted to 15% or even 20%)
  • Special haredi units, i.e. units led by male officers (especially important for basic training), with higher standards of kosher supervision and times set aside for prayer and study. (And these units already exist; I served in one 13 years ago.)

In addition, some haredim will excel in the army and become officers. That is good for them and good for the haredi population as a whole.

Plus, there are a lot of haredim. The Israeli army doesn’t need and cannot absorb so many new recruits at once. Most haredim over the age of twenty-two will probably be granted total exemptions from military service.

What am I missing?

The irony is that secular Israelis – who supposedly hate the haredim with passion – are insisting that the haredim be given power, accesses to the highest levels of Israeli society, and weapons. Funny.

There are those who argue that the study of Torah is the only true protector of Israel, the Israeli army is merely hishtadlus (making an effort). And as a religious Jew I agree one hundred percent.

But that has nothing to do with the draft.

The Talmud states, “Any town in which there are no schoolchildren studying Torah will be destroyed” (Shabbos 119B). But no one wants to draft schoolchildren. Is their Torah study not good enough? What about the men ages 22 and up (post-service or most likely exempted)? Is their Torah study not good enough? Or what about the top 10%; the exceptional Torah scholars most agree should be exempted from the draft? Doesn’t their Torah study count? It can’t be that the only Torah study worthy of protecting the Jewish nation is the study of Jewish men ages 18-21, and particularly the men not exceptional enough to be exempted from service.

There are those who argue that service in Israel’s military will make young haredi men go off the derech (give up a religious lifestyle). Give me a break. Haredi men are already going of the derech, and in record numbers. And if a haredi man cannot stay religious in a religious unit (with male officers, higher standards of kosher supervision, and special times set aside for prayer and study) then I am sorry, but that man was going off the derech already. Don’t blame the army.

And haredi society will benefit from the draft. Some haredi men are trapped. They don’t have the headspace to study fulltime, but they cannot leave Kollel for fear of the draft. So they flounder. Service (or an exemption) means that they will be free to join the work force. They can earn, provide for their families, travel in and out of the country, and create businesses in freedom and with peace of mind.

Israeli society is divided. It is naïve to think that solving the issue of haredi service in the military will solve Israel’s problems. There will still be secular Israelis who hate haredim. And there will still be haredim who hate secular Israelis. But it will help.

Haredi service in the military is the most contentious issue in Israel today. It is up to the haredim to solve it. And they should, because they only stand to gain in the deal.

 
*I know, Yair Lapid calls for a much smaller number of exemptions but: 1) if the haredim take the lead they can probably get what they want, and 2) even he agrees that some should be exempted. Also note: Israel may not be able to afford a universal draft. And I agree, a more accurate title for this post would be, “Haredim should demand to be drafted” – many religious Israelis already support a draft.