It seems like every other headline is about the mandatory draft of the ultra-Orthodox in Israel. If last summer it was cottage cheese, this summer it’s boot camp. While the secular parties in Israel duke it out with the Haredim, an entire sector has kept relatively quiet — the religious Zionists.
In Israel today there are more kippa-wearing religious Zionist soldiers and officers than ever before. Even the Nahal Haredi, a nominally ultra-Orthodox unit, is dominated by knit kippas. Why is it that out of all the movements in Israel, it is the religious Zionists who are the most silent on the hottest topic sweeping the nation?
If there is any demographic in Israel that can discuss the issues with the ultra-Orthodox from a faith-based perspective it is the religious Zionists, roughly the Israeli counterpart to America’s modern Orthodox. This is a group that truly respects Torah learning and even believes in its trancendental powers of protection and blessing — while at the same time modeling itself after King David, Rabbi Akiva, and other scholar-warriors who, after prayer and learning, went out to battle for Israel’s freedom.
As such, this is a group that can look the ultra-Orthodox in the eye and insist that they serve alongside their fellow citizens according to the biblical command “not to stand on your brother’s blood.” In response to the ultra-Orthodox claim that their Torah studies mystically protect the Jewish state, religious Zionists are in the best position to point out that on election day, their yeshivas are closed as their rabbis demand that every student go out and vote. They’re not expecting the mystical power of Torah to get them elected into the Knesset.
Furthermore, from a religious perspective saving lives — e.g., by working in a hospital or an ambulance — is tantamount to having fulfilled all the commandments. Not one rabbi would say it is better to learn Torah than to save a life.
Israel is waiting for the religious Zionist movement to take a leadership role, as it may be the only voice that can bring the secular and faith-based communities together.
I am running for the Knesset in the Jewish Home party, which has a unique and vital message for Israel. Below is a four-point plan my team has developed that combines a sensitivity to the ultra-Orthodox world with an understanding that they must be integrated into society and serve the country as does every other citizen.
- The ultra-Orthodox world is already involved in a myriad of services for the country in such institutions as Hatzala, ZAKA, Magen David Adom, various hospitals and old age homes. Volunteerism in ultra-Orthodox (as well as Israeli Arab) institutions must immediately be recognized as national service.
- The new “Volunteering Ministry” should include options for service in the police, firefighting service, Magen David Adom, Prison Service and other vital national interests that have a shortage of personnel. At the same time the Nahal Haredi IDF unit must be enlarged significantly to ensure and protect the religious freedoms of the ultra-Orthodox who join the army.
- Those who serve in the military, as opposed to those in the Volunteering Ministry, will be given special benefits such as free university tuition and an increase in child allowance.
- Yeshivas with an over 50% rate of enlistment to military or volunteering will get funding; others will not.
With this approach we incentivize integration and discourage seclusion. The voice and values of religious Zionism have the power to encourage the ultra-Orthodox world to join Israeli society gradually, not forcibly. In this manner they will ultimately serve our country as equals.