Aryeh Mayteles

10 challenges to the Charedi position on IDF service

Netzach Yehuda Battalion praying at Massada. Photo by the author
Netzach Yehuda Battalion praying at Massada. Photo by the author

The current controversy raging around the issue of drafting Charedim (the ultra-Orthodox) to the IDF is often centered around the value of Torah study vs. the practical need for national defense.

The official, historic draft exemption for Torah scholars has become a de facto blanket exemption for almost all draft-age youth raised in the Charedi sector.

Despite the High Court’s recent ruling, most pragmatic Israelis believe there is room for compromise whereby the IDF will continue to issue exemptions for some number of diligent young Torah scholars, just as star athletes and entertainers are often exempted.

Meanwhile, the Charedi population has reacted to the court’s ruling with unbending resolve and anguish, horrified at the idea that anyone but their rabbinic leaders would have any say on whether they enlist in the IDF.

There seems to be a constant stream of excuses why NO Charedi man can enlist regardless of Torah study status, ranging from the authentic – exposure to secular army culture will cause them spiritual harm, to the absurd – “but what about the (few dozen) soldiers serving in cushy units like Army Radio, etc.”

Practically speaking, there is no truth to the idea that Charedim don’t serve in the IDF because they devote their time to Torah study. For all intents and purposes, Charedi culture is indifferent to Israeli security needs, and I offer the following 10 points as proof:

1. First and foremost, Charedi society has never made any move to duly send young men not studying in yeshiva to the IDF.

2. The development and growth of Charedi “dropout” yeshivot with the purpose of absorbing any youth not studying full time from “falling into the IDF clutches,” having them spend their time in an assortment of neutral to questionable ways, as long as they’re not serving the purpose of national defense.

3. Charedi leadership has never been willing to have an honest conversation about the issue of enlistment for non-torah scholars. Rabbis and yeshiva administrators often lie and forge documents for young men ostensibly in their care for the sacred goal of avoiding the draft, even if the young man spends his time gambling, working off the books or chasing women.

4. Why hasn’t Charedi leadership ever tried to establish Charedi hesder yeshivot? They could include religious aspects more stringent than the religious Zionist programs. Decades have been wasted that could have been spent developing kosher Charedi frameworks in the IDF for men not suited to yeshiva life.

5. Considering the volatility of the region and the dire security situation Israel currently faces as Iran and its proxies try to slowly choke the life out of the country, it would at least be sensible for ALL young men to perform about 6-8 weeks of basic training (the IDF could dedicate an exclusive base absent of women and adapted to accommodate a strictly religious lifestyle) and proceed straight to the reserve ranks, so that in a real emergency they too can be called upon to defend the Jewish state, even if there is no political agreement about them serving for a full three years like other Israelis.

6. Charedi leadership was overwhelmingly opposed to the formation of the Netzach Yehuda Charedi battalion even though it was founded by mainstream Charedi rabbis, with the (perhaps sole) support of Rabbi Steinman, and only sought to attract boys anyways not studying Torah in Yeshiva.

7. If Charedi leadership really believed that the draft model of service is outdated and no longer necessary in this era, as some of them often claim when discussing the issue in the media, why have the Charedi parties never proposed a Knesset bill transforming the IDF into a (small & hi-tech) professional military?

8. Considering the level of controversy and bitterness the issue stirs up among Israeli society, why have Charedi politicians remained so indifferent or tone deaf for so long? Why have they not been at the forefront of ensuring draftees and reserve soldiers are at least compensated to the maximum extent for their sacrifice? On the contrary, Charedi parties recently tried to pass a bill ensuring Kollel students are given the same status as IDF soldiers, and supposedly financially compensated accordingly, the importance of Torah study in Judaism as justification.

9. Even if any joint progress on drafting Charedi men is deemed impossible, considering the ultimate price so many soldiers have had to pay and the sheer number of orphans, widows and grieving family members left behind, especially in the last nine months, why have Charedi politicians not been at the forefront of ensuring every security act by the government is absolutely necessary and no security related decision needlessly endangers IDF soldiers? On the contrary, the Charedi population is at the forefront of supporting hawkish policies.

10. If the Torah protects and yeshiva students are as important to national defense as IDF soldiers, why haven’t we seen Charedi leaders, students and rabbis take responsibility for the October 7th disaster? Have they conducted any real introspection and learned any lessons? Are we going to see a Charedi Commission of Inquiry formed?

The truth is that while thousands of Charedi men have indeed devoted their lives to Torah study, the fact remains that the real reason Charedi society does not participate in the burden of national defense is because they are simply indifferent to the difficult realities necessary for maintaining Jewish life in Israel. They live in a bubble with their needs generously provided for by the state or international donors; who in their right mind would willingly give up such a valuable privilege?

About the Author
Aryeh was raised in Brooklyn and decided to enlist in the IDF after high school/yeshiva, eventually settling in Israel. He lives in Ramat Gan with his Israeli wife & 2 children. He has a BA in Arabic & Islamic history from Hebrew University. He is interested in cultural & socio-political phenomena and closely follows developments in Charedi society.
Related Topics
Related Posts