Avraham Edelstein

A Chareidi Jew yearns for Unity

As a Chareidi Jew, what I want to see from the government of Israel are the same as every other citizen. I want housing prices and the cost of living in general to come down; I want security; I want transportation to be efficient; I want the medical system to keep pace with the population growth. These are the things that the government can provide that effect my life more than any other. In my mind, it would have been better that there were no Chareidi parties at all – that we not be identified as a sector that appears to be interested in its own interests at the expense of others. I believe that many more people would get closer to Judaism that way. I believe that the great divide in our nation would be closed very significantly – that we could go into the festival of Shavuot “as one person with one heart” just as we all stood at Sinai.

I wish there was a party – the Likud or Meretz or any other that would look after my interests in a way that I could safely say that we no longer need the Chareidi parties.

There is, of course, an elephant in the room and it is the draft law. I have long felt that we should do away with the draft law and make a volunteer army. This army should pay well, with great benefits and great opportunities in the broader world after graduation – like tuition free university education. It makes no sense to me that I hear of the increasing number of “jobnikim” in the army – soldiers who seem to do nothing during their service, but who, in turn, require an entire infrastructure – corporals, sergeants, officers, food and lodge – to be hosted.

Once upon a time the Israeli army was considered a great melting pot, an ideal of the New Jew, a place where one showed one’s great patriotism to the country. Today, most of those who serve would rather not, even though the exceptions to this are many. Increasing numbers are finding ways of getting out of this service. The resentment to the Chareidi population is heightened by the feelings of those who would also like to get out of service – why them and not me.

But the world is changing. The immigration from former Soviet Union countries will be going down – there are a maximum of 700,000 Jews left in these countries. The  aliyot from non-Western countries will shrink to nearly nothing. For FSU, Ethiopians and other immigrants, the army was a great way to integrate into society. They could still volunteer if they wanted to. But Aliyah in the future will become primarily a Western phenomenon – France, the USA, Britain, South Africa. And these immigrants are less interested in going to the army. They need it less or at least they think that they do.

Once upon a time Israel had three million or less citizens. I never heard that the army was too small then, but I understood that everyone was needed. Today, we are almost 9 million and growing by the day. The army could not possibly absorb every 18 year old productively for three years with an ever expanding population.  The increasingly high tech needs of the army make it nonsensical to even try and do this. It simply means wasting resources that should be used to keep a lazar-sharp focus on the increasing precision and training that the real-deal servers need to have.

The benefit to society will not only be greater efficiency, but the removal of a great thorn in all of our sides that is separating all of we Jews one from another. It will be a step to allow the healing of rifts, of realizing that our common core is far more important than the differences that divide us.

About the Author
Rabbi Avraham Edelstein is the educational director of Neve Yerushalayim College for Women and is the executive mentor of Olami. He is the author of ‘the Human Challenge – on Being Jewish in the 21st Century.'