J.J Gross

Drafting haredim is a non-starter, here’s what can be done

Haredi resistance to the draft has little or nothing to do with Torah study. The actual percentage of haredim who spend their days in full-time learning is small. The percentage of those who have what it takes to be Torah virtuosos, thereby worthy – like gifted violinists – of exemption, is microscopic. The excuse of Torah learning is a fig leaf, and a transparent one at that.

What’s more, we know for certain that one can combine military service with a life dedicated to Torah scholarship. There are too many fresh graves in our military cemeteries that attest to just that.

Haredi refusal to be drafted is part of a general haredi worldview that it owes nothing to the greater society while being entitled – by dint of its massive bloc vote – to help itself to everything it can take. In this, Israel is not different from America, or elsewhere that haredim thrive in critical mass. If there were a military draft in the United States, rest assured not a single haredi would willingly be called up. Every bit of Talmudic chicanery would be combobulated to thwart the “evil decree”.

In Israel, haredim are not part of the social fabric. Simply put, they, for the most part, do not subscribe to the legitimacy of a Jewish state. They do not observe its holidays or commemorations. In their synagogues, they refuse even to recite a prayer for the welfare of soldiers (forget about a prayer for the welfare of the State). In Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, Yom Hazikaron is just another Monday or Thursday or whatever weekday it happens to fall on. Yom Haatzmaut is a sacrilege.

Haredim do not view Zion as an aspiration. While the national anthem says “ayin l’Zion tzofiyah” – the eye looks toward Zion, the haredi eye is glued obsessively to a mythical diaspora past.

It is no accident that every single hassidic clan and every single haredi Lithuanian yeshiva is named for a shtetl or kehillah in a bygone Europe: Belz, Kretchneff, Lelov, Satmar, Amshinov, Telshe, Mir, Slabodka, Kamenetz … the list is endless.

Indeed, haredim have not come to Israel lihyot am hofshi b’Artzeinu, in order “to be a free people in our land”. On the contrary, that have imported the “golus” with them – replete with an exotic language, attire suitable only for a European winter, and the very particular customs of their original diaspora communities.

This all boils down to an absolute allegiance exclusively to their respective Rebbes or Rosh Yeshivas. Do haredim pay taxes? Yes – like gypsy communities in Europe – they pay generously to their own kings, namely rebbes ad yeshivas. If any taxes are paid to the State, it’s only when they have not yet figured out a way to avoid doing so.

Under such circumstances, to expect haredi young men to enlist in the IDF is as realistic as expecting Hamas to recognize Israel with Jerusalem as its capital.

So what can be done about an impossible situation that is only exacerbated by the pandering of a morally cynical Netanyahu? (Not that we can’t count on any of his opponents to likewise sell us down the river in order to become dogs wagged by the haredi tail.) What can we do to stop feeding and financing the exponential growth of a sector of the population that views our dwindling majority as fair game?

For openers let’s be perfectly honest. It isn’t just haredim who are enjoying a free security ride on the backs of the Zionists. There are also two million Arabs who are doing the same. And we can no longer afford it.

As it happens, there is a small, but growing – and, to their credit, principled – cadre of imported haredim who live here as permanent residents, never having taken citizenship. They live in our country, but not off our country. While contributing nothing and serving nowhere, they also do not enjoy the benefits of citizenship and cannot vote. They pay for their own medical care, enjoy no discounts on their municipal and state taxes, and receive no benefits for having multitudes of children.

I propose a simple, fair and non-discriminatory policy whereby every resident of Israel, upon turning 18, must opt – of their own free will – to either accept citizenship or choose permanent residency without citizenship. Those who choose citizenship would, of course, immediately serve in the IDF and enjoy, for life, all the medical, social, educational benefits and voting privileges of citizenship. Those who opt out of citizenship would be welcome to remain as permanent resident aliens. They could work. They could open businesses. They could enroll in universities and yeshivas. But they would have to pay full freight for everything to which normative citizens are entitled. If they want to have eight children, by all means. But they would have to consider the cost of doctors visits and hospitalizations .  In need of surgery? Welcome to the world of medical tourism. Excellent care … for a fee. What’s fair is fair. You choose not to give, you choose not to get.

With such a policy in place, one could easily envision, in short order, a significant sector of the haredi and Arab populations in uniform. And, among those who eschew service – and thereby citizenship – a significant shrinking of their birthrate.

No doubt, this policy would mean no shortage of Tel Aviv brats who would opt out of citizenship as well. For they, like the haredim, have no sense of allegiance to the greater society in which they live. Haredim are 100% correct when they point to the not insignificant draft-dodging among secular youth. Indeed, fully 25% of secular youth – mainly from the Tel Aviv area – manage to not serve.

Hence, instead of banging our heads against the wall; instead of seeking phony solutions that only perpetuate and aggravate the status quo; instead of making believe this is purely a haredi problem; let’s do the right thing. Give everyone a choice. No one is coerced into serving. And no one is coerced into financing those who choose not to. And it will be really nice, finally, to have a Knesset that is not a house divided against itself.

About the Author
J.J Gross is a veteran creative director and copywriter, who made aliyah in 2007 from New York. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a lifelong student of Bible and Talmud. He is also the son of Holocaust survivors from Hungary and Slovakia.
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