Michael Boyden

Don’t be freiers

Every Israeli knows what it means to be a freier. Although pronounced like the word friar, it has nothing to do with those belonging to the Roman Catholic orders, who have taken a vow of poverty, but rather to people who are “mugs,” who are easily deceived or cheated and get “taken for a ride.”

One of the prices that we pay for living in Israel is that of having to undertake compulsory military service for 32 months. Once that is over, many of our servicemen will still be forced to leave their families when they are called up for reserve duty each year until they reach the age of forty.

Being a soldier in Israel, particularly at this difficult time, carries a heavy price. Not only have many reservists been fighting in Gaza for several months, but, even more seriously and tragically, 563 soldiers have been killed (40% of whom were on reserve duty) and some 13,000 wounded.

The IDF needs more soldiers. The Conscription Law now being brought to the Knesset will lengthen compulsory service to three years and require reservists to continue to serve in the military until the age of 46.

Not only do Israelis enter their professions that much later in their lives than their counterparts in other countries, but their ability to run a business or develop their careers is hampered by the need to undertake reserve duty.

All of this might be acceptable were the burden to be fairly shared by the entire population, but it is not. Nearly all of the ultra-orthodox haredim choose to exempt themselves from military service. Between 2019 and 2021 a mere 1,200 of them were conscripted each year, representing just 10% of their numbers.

While our men and women are risking their lives on the front lines, most of them are, in their words, “killing themselves in the tent of Torah”. (I have yet to see their families around their graves on Remembrance Day.)

Were the haredim to share the burden of defending our country, there would be no need to lengthen military service and demand that people in their mid-40’s continue to undertake reserve duty.

However, a people that knows so well what is means to be a freier continues to allow the haredim to stand idly by as the price that we are apparently prepared to pay for their joining government coalitions.

As we watch the military funerals each evening on our television screens, the time has come to say enough is enough. If they are not prepared to share the burden, then they should be deprived of the benefits that should surely be reserved for those who are prepared to pay the price.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.
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