Draft ‘Em ALL!

One week ago, the Tal Law, which provided tens of thousands of Orthodox Jewish men with exemptions from serving in the Army, expired. This means that all Jewish men in Israel who have reached the age of 18 are fair game for conscription in the Army.

Go to any major city in Israel, stop the nearest secular Israeli on the street and ask him or her: “Is the demise of the Tal Law a good thing for Israel?”

“You better believe it!” is a common response. “It’s about time those Haredim (‘Ultra-Orthodox’) get off their butts and share the burden of defending the country!”

Now go to a Haredi neighborhood and ask the young people you see the same question. You are likely get a response such as this: “It’s terrible! I’d rather go to jail than join that filthy, immodest, immoral army! Besides: it isn’t the army that protects the Nation of Israel – it’s the diligent study of the Torah that protects us! If they would put down their guns and study with all their might in the Beit HaMidrash (Torah Study Hall) – there would be no need for an army!”

Hmmm. Pretty irreconcilable differences, no? Just another point of contention in the fractious, bitterly conflicted modern State of Israel, right?

Maybe not.

Maybe the end of the Tal Law could be a new beginning for Israel that would be acceptable for everyone.

Here’s a proposal: When a new law is passed to replace the Tal Law, how about including a provision for conscripting the non-religious population – to a new kind of yeshiva (Torah-study academy) designed to meet their needs! That way, all the bases would be covered – whether religious or not, each young person could serve his country in the way HE sees fit – either through army service or by studying Torah!

What an idea! What an opportunity! Everyone would be happy – the non-religious and the religious together.

Because the truth is that in today’s kaleidoscope society, just as there are ultra-religious youth who would WANT to serve in the army if they could – there are also myriads of non-religious Jews who would jump at the opportunity to be paid to study the world of the heritage of their ancestors in-depth! Just go out and ask them. You will be surprised to hear what they say when they speak off the record and take a break from towing the party line.

One of the worst problems facing both religious and secular society today is that tens of thousands of young men are quietly refusing to do what their segment of society expects of them. There are many Haredim who, though officially enrolled in yeshivot and making full use of their exemptions from the Tal Law – never show up to classes because they hate the structure and content of yeshiva life. These people and society at large would be served well if they had a true, legitimate option to serve in the army and develop skills for working outside of the full-time yeshiva world.

At the same time, a large proportion of the non-religious population is actually shirking their duties in a parallel way. They don’t want to have anything to do with the army, and so they sneak out the back door to jobs or trips abroad. This is winked at by Israeli society at large. They don’t want the army, and they are fuming mad:

Why not give them a different way of serving the nation – sitting on the benches of yeshivot, studying the classical texts that have made us a nation and kept us together for thousands of years?

Deeply entrenched in the Jewish consciousness is the need and privilege to study Torah. This idea starts in the Pentateuch itself:

שְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת הַחֻקִּים וְאֶת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי דֹּבֵר בְּאָזְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם! וּלְמַדְתֶּם אֹתָם, וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם – לַעֲשֹׂתָם. (דברים ה, א.)

Listen, Israel, to the laws and statutes that I am speaking into your ears today! Study them, and keep them – so as to do them. (Deuteronomy 5, 1)


And continues all throughout the Hebrew Bible:

לֹא יָמוּשׁ סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה מִפִּיךָ; וְהָגִיתָ בּוֹ יוֹמָם וָלַיְלָה, לְמַעַן תִּשְׁמֹר לַעֲשׂוֹת, כְּכָל הַכָּתוּב בּוֹ.  כִּי אָז – תַּצְלִיחַ אֶת דְּרָכֶךָ, וְאָז – תַּשְׂכִּיל. (יהושוע א, ח)

This book of the Torah will not move from your mouth; study it day and night, in order that you will make sure to do all that is written in it. Because then – you will succeed in your ways, and then – you will understand. (Joshua 1, 8)
Come on, people. Don’t pooh-pooh this idea so fast. The nation of Israel is the only nation in history to survive intact for thousands of years, like a tortoise without its shell, despite having no land to call its own. We were scattered over the world, but we survived – due in no small part, you must admit, to our willingness to fulfill our responsibility to ‘study the Torah day and night’.

I call on our national leadership to open their eyes and their minds and give this idea a shot. Just think of how many disaffected youth, Haredi and secular, could be brought to service to our country, using their talents either as soldiers or as true scholars of our ancient patrimony?

Hey, maybe this could help. And at worst, it couldn’t hurt –

About the Author
Yisrael Rosenberg is a former New Englander who made aliyah 30 years ago. He lives with his wife and four children in Jerusalem.