The time has come to compare the schedules of actual Israeli soldiers and the schedule of our “spiritual soldiers” who protect us through their Torah study. This is a very important exercise since the argument on the Haredi side has been that the yeshiva boys “kill themselves in the tents of Torah” on behalf of the Jewish people and the State.
Combat soldiers typically function on several possible schedules including four hours on and four hours off, eight hours on and four hours off, or, in the best case scenario, eight hours on and eight hours off. In other words, soldiers are “on” for anywhere between 12 to 16 hours per day. This schedule applies seven days a week and, once in every two or three weeks, they are off for Friday and Shabbat, with the Shabbat usually a time to collapse and sleep from sheer exhaustion. Many non-combat soldiers function on similar schedules and must be available whenever the army needs them.
Now, let us look at the yeshiva boy who is “killing himself in the tent of Torah” according to the Yaalon plan which the Prime Minister wants to adapt into law as a “historic” moment to enforce “equality in national service.” A boy will only be required to attend yeshiva for forty five hours a week. Forty five hours? I assume this means 8 hours a day from Sunday through Thursday. This raises a number of questions:
1) Where is the “equality” here?
2) Where is the “killing himself in the tent of Torah?”
3) Assuming he gets a good night’s sleep of eight hours, eats for another hour, and prays for another hour and a half, what is he doing with the other five and a half hours each day?
As someone who spent ten years studying in yeshiva and Kollel, some years studying Torah for sixteen hours a day, some years learning for twelve hours and attending college for four hours, and some years when I learned for eight hours without knowing what to do with the rest of my unstructured time for the remainder of the day, I feel qualified to speak to this issue. Here are the simple facts: A yeshiva boy who is only learning eight hours a day while not pursuing college or vocational studies and not performing any kind of volunteer service is not being productive. Sources throughout classic Jewish texts talk about lack of productivity and being involved in constructive activity leading to all types of negative behavior. Basic understanding of human behavior and psychology yields the same conclusion. The ”down time” in such a schedule is likely to lead to behavior not appropriate for a yeshiva boy and undoes any spiritual gains for him or the country gained during the eight hours of learning. Even if he does not succumb to outright improper activities, he will certainly feel a lack of self worth and anger towards the system which labels him as second class or worse if he pursues activities other than Torah study.
Are there yeshiva boys who do “kill themselves in the tents of Torah?” Absolutely, yes. These are boys who love Torah and study for 12-16 hours a day – similar to the time put in by the soldier. Aside from the time element, these yeshiva boys truly exert themselves while studying and deserve to be recognized for this. That should be the basic requirement for anyone receiving an army exemption because “Torah is his trade.” Anyone who cannot keep to that criterion should not be given an exemption from service. Period. Anything less cannot be considered “equality” on any level and cannot be considered “killing himself in Torah.”
While I, personally, see IDF service as the fulfillment of one of the highest of Jewish ideals, I certainly respect the concern regarding enlisting an 18 year old Haredi boy straight into IDF or national service. I understand and respect the compromise needed to allow these boys to defer their full service for a few years of yeshiva study. But, not as a 45 hour per week exemption from the army! During those years, they should learn their eight hours a day and use the remaining hours for volunteer service, vocational training, or college courses. Their nearly two months of vacation time (1 week in Tishrei, 3 weeks Nissan, and three weeks in Av) and Friday mornings (why do any yeshiva boys need to be off on Fridays?) should be dedicated to national service and these months should even be viewed as the beginning of their enlistment and count towards their years of service.
But, wait a minute. Why is the Haredi political leadership against my idea? Certainly, it can’t be because they value Torah study so much because if this were the case they would mandate at least 12 hours per day of learning. Clearly, they know that the majority of Haredi boys cannot learn for more than 8 hours a day! But, why, then, would they settle for this 45 hour plan which means forcing so many young men into year after year of just eight hours of Torah study and eight hours of freedom thus creating so much negative downtime in his day?
The answer is obvious. Because if he leaves “full time” study and begins army or national service, what is the next step after that? Joining the workforce? If most Haredim end up in the workforce as upstanding and contributing Torah Jews, what needs is there for Haredi political parties and power? The “45 Hour Farce” has exposed the flaw of the Prime Minister working together with the Haredi political leadership who are not seeking what is truly best for Torah. They are simply looking for a way to maintain their own power and control. The Prime Minister should, instead, consult with people who can give him real information regarding what is happening on the ground.
The last few days have demonstrated how the Prime Minister, just like Moshe Gafni and Eli Yishai, is motivated purely by what can generate his own political strength and not what is the best for the country or even what is best for the Haredim. I hope the farce of the “45 hour requirement” serves as the wake up call for him and any of his supporters and he begins to realize the damage his plan of “inequality” and “lack of Torah study” will do the country and to Haredim, themselves.
If that wake up call does not happen, elections cannot come soon enough…..