Summer has come and the time for the revival of age-old political issues is in full swing. Yet again, the issue of drafting the ultra-orthodox is front and center, with both sides articulating their talking points with zeal. “Sharing the burden” vs. “Torah study is the burden” are both being declared in their respective echo chambers, and any step forward in the direction of civil consensus is non-existent.
Ideally, I would like to say that there should be a dialogue in which both sides come together and try to understand where the other is coming from. It would be great for different sectors in our small society to sit together, with all parties focused on the greater good instead of sectarian interest. The problem is, though, that there are not two legitimate sides to this debate. As harsh and stubborn as that may sound, the ultra-orthodox arguments for draft dodging (not learning core curriculum, shunning higher education and integration into the labor force) simply do not hold water.
Their main argument, whether openly said or not, is that the Jewish State, people, and in fact entire world, is dependent on the Torah study of these dedicated yeshiva students. This holy duty, it is said, is the true source of the defense and protection of the Jewish nation. The virtue of Torah study should be the highest and most respected position, and Zalman Shazar’s words on the 200 Shekel bill reiterate this point.
The problem with this claim is that it has no root in reality. Israel as a modern country, develops highly technological and scientific solutions to the problems it faces. Instead of declaring official fast days and reciting additional phrases in the Shemoneh Esreh to deal with the drought, advanced government funded irrigation systems and reservoirs are created. The above claim supporting the value of Torah study is comparable to someone who recites an extra chapter of Psalms while believing it could help with the healing of a sick loved one. Although he has the right to believe that prayer helped saved the patient, I doubt he would want the doctors to take the same approach.
As a society in the real world, each citizen in is bound by a social contract. In this country, that means taking part in defense and economic prosperity. However cute it might be that the ultra-orthodox think they are taking part in both in some supernatural realm, the claim is simply not supported by evidence. Rather, the claim is justified by expressions of faith and excerpts from ancient texts. This, for any reality based life form, is simply unacceptable when it comes to governance and social obligation.
When presented with the counter argument, Haredi leaders, the “gedolim”, conjure up knee-jerk and outrageous claims that the secular-Zionist entity is yet again trying to drive a wedge between the Jewish people and their religion. The Edah HaHaredit, in typical fashion, exploits their children by presenting them as concentration camp prisoners (which is exactly the situation service in the IDF is intended to prevent). The decisions by the Jewish state concerning defense and economic needs that would affect the entitlement lifestyle of Haredi Jews, have been dubbed “Evil Decrees” which demand additional Torah study and the cancellation of yeshiva summer break, again relegating real life issues into some superstitious other worldly area.
How is one supposed to argue with dogma? How can the pro-draft side ever hope to reach any understanding with a population whose position is seen as being sanctioned and decreed from on high? We have evidence of the economic draining that this population imposes on the greater society. We have evidence that Israel is in such a unique security situation that a collective draft on its citizens in necessary. We have evidence that secular education leads to greater economic prosperity (and some would argue greater religious understanding). But again, evidence is generally not valued in any ultra-religious population where the harder something is to believe, the more virtuous.
So the Plesner Committee did what any responsible parent would do. They decided that despite Haredi ranting and raving, it was time to let the citizens of this country know that there is one law that we are all bound by. This law is based on the democratic values of its citizens, its founding character and the mutual interest of its residents. All other sources of “law” can be studied and even exalted, but they will never trump the law of the land.
As long as a sector of the population and political landscape refuses to talk about here-and-now issues with here-and-now solutions, they lose their legitimacy to take part in the decision making process. What Israel needs to do, if it insists on waving the flag of being the only democracy in the Middle East, is to finally adopt the doctrine of separation of synagogue and state. God should have no role in economic, social, or defense policy whatsoever. If we do not oust him from the conversation, the unrealistic perpetual support of subsidized ignorance and entitlement will only grow and further damage the vision of an independent Jewish people in their homeland.