Army Service and “The Chareidi Problem”

My husband served in the Israeli army. Voluntarily. Before he was an Israeli citizen. Because it was something that he wanted to do and felt was important to him.

My father is currently a Colonel in the American Army. 7 years ago, he was deployed as part of the Stryker Brigade for a year in Iraq, being shot at, watching friends die, getting permanently injured himself, and missing my older sister’s wedding. 2 years ago he was deployed for another 3 months to Kuwait.

My dad and 3 other soldiers in his unit on the street in Baghdad.


I know what military life is about, even though I never served.

And so many times, I’m struck by the differences in how the US army works and how the Israeli army works.

There are so many differences between the two, and so many strong feelings about army service in Israel, who joins and who doesn’t join, that  I wonder if the Israeli army would end up learning certain things from the American army, there would be much less resentment in Israel between the varying sects, and maybe the army would even be more effective?

I’m not a professional analyst in any way, and I don’t have details of the exact finances involved, but this is just some ideas about how to maybe fix the current situation in Israel, what people coin “the Chareidi problem”.

My chareidi husband in the Israeli army.

It seems that there are three main gripes against Chareidim in Israel. Firstly, that Chareidi institutions- schools, yeshivos, and kollels are funded by the government, even though they don’t teach the core curriculum that the government requires, and that those in kollel get paid to study Torah.

Secondly, Chareidi culture does not encourage army service and therefore there are many Chareidim who do not join the army. (Many Chareidim join the army, many who want to join but the army doesn’t want them, but a large percent of the population doesn’t serve by choice and has proclaimed that they will sit in jail instead of serving in the army.)

Thirdly, because many Chareidi men don’t go to the army, they are either legally unable to work or people will not hire them even once they’re legally allowed, so they end up living off the wife’s small salary and being poor, often getting monetary assistance from the  government, and/or at the very least, not making enough money to be eligible for income tax.

These three factors together lead to the popular (and incorrect) sentiments in Israel that Chareidim only take from the country and don’t give back, that Chareidim expects the government to support their lifestyle while they don’t even do the “bare minimum” of what is required of Israelis to contribute to the country, that Chareidim think “their blood is redder than others”, that people are upset that only their children have to put their lives at risk for the country but Chareidim don’t, and that Chareidim don’t pay taxes.

Therefore, I recommend a three pronged approach to maybe help solve this issue, so the aforementioned sentiments will be proven false. It favors no side- both sides will likely hate it and feel they are discriminated against. But I think that despite the strong feelings, it has potential to work.

Lets get back to my dad and why he joined the American army in his 40s.

It pays. It is a career. My father’s cardiology practice wasn’t doing so amazingly well, and the US Army recruitment guys promised him a large salary and a promising career there. He was swayed. He has been in the US Army for the past 8 years or so.

Many of the guys he worked with joined the army at an earlier stage in life. There are many reasons why they did so, but all of them knew that joining the army would provide them with a career, a salary, and quite possibly would work as a stepping stone to help them move on to other promising careers in life.

No one is currently drafted in the US Army. All are there by choice, and all are happy about it. No one is forced to go to the army against their will, to fight for a cause they do not believe in. People serve in the US army because they want to.

Compare that to the Israeli army. Guys (and girls) are drafted at the age of 18. Some kicking and screaming. Some ideologically against serving, some happy to be serving their country and risking their lives to save Jews and fight for this land. Some are drafted but get deferrals, some go to jail instead of serving. But they all get their tzav rishon (first draft notice) at the age of 16.

And they almost all get extremely pitiful salaries- from 300 to 800 shekel a month or so.

That’s not even a salary- its pocket change.

I think the Israeli army needs to annul the draft across the board. No one should be drafted- not chilonim, not dati leumi, not arabs, not chareidim.

With no draft- how exactly will the army be staffed?

Offer incentives.

Offer real salaries, at the very least minimum wage, but ideally more. Some people will join the army out of ideology, because they are honored to serve the country and protect their fellow brothers and sisters, and some will join the army because they need cash and know that a job in the army is waiting for them. Offer incentives for them to become tzva keva– career officers, with better payments and better conditions, so people will stay in the army longer than 3 years- perhaps 20. So you need fewer new recruits because you have more steady officers.

Offer incentives like college degrees and career training through the army, like West Point, like the Shachar program, but for everyone, not just chareidim. So that people who want to go to college and learn a career but can’t afford it will join the army, serve the country, and advance in life and their careers.

And anyone who doesn’t join the army should be treated like normal citizens- allowed to go to college, work, or travel around the world. Or learn in kollel. Their choice.

And discrimination in the work place (and elsewhere) against someone for their religious beliefs, and if they served in the army or not should be illegal.

No one should be forced into the army if they don’t want to. No one’s blood is redder than anyone else’s.

I’ve raised this potential solution before, and people ask “How on earth would the Israeli government be able to afford higher salaries for soldiers?” and “How would the army get enough people to join to make it be a functioning army, and not just sparsely populated?”

First off, just by allowing Chareidim to legally work, more will work and pay taxes, which will give the government more money.

Secondly, I think that the way that the government should fund this and be able to have enough money to pay soldiers real salaries is… (and the chareidi world may hate me for saying this):


Take away funding from any institution that doesn’t stick to the core curriculum that the government requires. Take away kollel subsidies.

This will free up lots of cash for the Israeli government, and hopefully get rid of the anger people currently have because they feel the Israeli government and tax payers shouldn’t support a lifestyle they don’t support.

How will Chareidi places get funding?

For schools- either adopting the core curriculum, or being self supporting by their community. Because if Chareidim were actually allowed to work, and not forced into Kollel because they are ideologically opposed to going to the army, the Chareidi community wouldn’t need to be so poor. They might be able to have enough money to support their own schools, both by fundraising among wealthier Chareidim, and by people paying tuition for schools. And by scaling back and providing the bare minimum in terms of facilities and extras, unless they want to adopt a core curriculum and then get government funding. (Caravans for classrooms and a few teachers to teach Torah shouldn’t cost too much, especially if divided among those in the community.)

For Kollels- the wife can work and the husband learns, or husband can learn part time and works part time, possibly in a Torah field by teaching Torah or tutoring Torah. That is what happens now, with the addition of some government funding. So cut that funding. People may have to tighten their belts, might decide that its worth it to sacrifice even more for the merit of Torah learning (the same way my family decides its worth it to sacrifice financially so I can be a stay at home mom), or they may decide that the husband needs to go to work, either part time or full time. And wealthier parents, who work, can support their sons or sons in law in Kollel.

What it comes down to is- I don’t think anyone should be forced to live a way of life that they don’t support, and that includes being forced to go to the army when you’re ideologically or emotionally opposed to it- but I don’t think anyone should be required to fund a way of life that they don’t support either.

People are still concerned that there won’t be enough people in the army if it were just optional. Right now there is a lot of wasted time in the army, doing things that are unnecessary, killing time. Some are doing important jobs, but even military officials will admit there is a lot of wasted time. But a large army is kept because of emergencies, wars, “just in case”.

I think that if you just counted those who are ideologically motivated to enter the army, and financially motivated to enter the army, you’d have enough soldiers for routine things that the army does, when it isn’t all out war.

To have enough soldiers for full out war you don’t need to have as many soldiers on active duty as the army has now. You need them in reserves, as a backup, to call up as needed.

And for that, I do support a “universal draft” of sorts. All Israeli men, even those that don’t volunteer to be soldiers, should be given basic basic basic army training- learning how to use a gun and work as a team, but without the tactics currently employed in basic training to break you down and then build you up again as an ideal soldier. Just rudimentary basics- how to use a gun and to work as a unit. Shouldn’t take more than a month or two. And once you finish that, back to whatever else you were doing in your life, whether kollel, university, or working as a salesman. So that in case of real need, when the army really needs as many soldiers as possible, these guys could be called up to serve.

And the chareidi world isn’t ideologically opposed to fighting physically when needed. As MK Eichler of UTJ recently said- his father was a member of Lechi and fought in the War of Independence. Many chareidim did. Chareidim do believe in fighting to save your life and those around you when necessary- that is a clear cut mitzva in the Torah. They just have a problem with how the army is currently structured, and therefore don’t want to serve.

So for that last issue- I think all soldiers, when they enter the army, should be required to submit the name of their rabbi, and when they are asked to do something they feel is halachicly questionable, they should be permitted to ask their official rabbi, and if he forbids doing what the soldier was ordered to do, the soldier should be allowed to refrain from doing so without facing pecuniary measures, like being kicked out of officer training programs or facing jail time or being court martialed. But if their rav says it is halachicly permissible, they should be required to do so, and face consequences if they do not.

Yes, all sides will probably find this proposal problematic. But I think this is a compromise that all sides will be able to live with, because no one should be forced to either live a life or fund a life they don’t support.


About the Author
Adara Peskin is a non conformist chareidi feminist single mother of 4 living in Kochav Yaakov, activist for mental health awareness, blogger at about living a life with mindful spending, and foraging instructor, attempting to make a kiddush Hashem every day via her interactions with others.