Aron Epstein

Haredim in the Army – A Different Perspective

I am Haredi and I want to address a different aspect of the whole discussion that is currently roiling the country.

I have read cogent arguments and counter-arguments on the whole philosophical issue of yes army or no army. Allow me another angle.

I am Haredi, ok, maybe not the archetypal Haredi that comes to mind when you say that word in Israel. Both I and my wife work, have college degrees, pay lots of money in taxes and our son is currently serving in the IDF.

We are very proud of our soldier son. We were at his kumtah ceremony the other week and it was very emotional for us. Our son, who was born in the US, is a proud soldier in the Israeli Army. He is probably the first Jewish soldier in a Jewish army in our family in the past two millennia.

How come our son is in the army? Why isn’t he in Yeshiva?

He isn’t in Yeshiva because he didn’t enjoy it and we realized that forcing him to stay in a situation where he is not happy is just another form of prison. He was wasting his time and that is not productive. Instead he went with our blessing to the army (and, might I say, I found out how expensive it is to kit out your child with warm clothing, socks, watch, Leatherman …. you name it). He is thriving in the army – he is in Kfir – Nahal Haredi – he loves it, he is happy, and we are fiercely proud of him. His wider family, my siblings, my mother, and mother-in-law are so proud of their soldier.

Here lies the issue at the end of the day, once both sides stop beating their chests and begin to think about the needs of the young lads.

There are many, many boys who really want to learn Torah. We should welcome that, everyone, not just Haredim, seculars too. The Torah studied by these boys span our entire history, from the halls of Sura and Pumpeditha in Ancient Babylonia to the study hall of Rashi in Worms, and Maimonides in Fostat. From Rabbi Akiva Eiger in Posen to Rabbi Schach in Bnei Brak, this is our true heritage, and these boys should be able to study untrammeled by the need to work or fight in the army. They maintain our heritage, and they should not be disturbed. Period.

And there are many many boys who feel shackled and imprisoned by the narrow constraints of Yeshiva life and who yearn for something else. Boys, who, given the chance, would become proud and fierce fighters and still maintain their religiousness. They would have the opportunity to shine in areas that suit them rather than constantly be reminded about their inadequacies in an area dominated by bright minds. They would find satisfaction in being a physical continuation of the fighters of King David. They would find expression of their Judaism as a Jewish warrior.

In all honesty, my son is lucky. He fell into a family that understands the value of Torah learning and Yeshiva yet recognize at the same time the need for some to do other things. I know that there are boys in his unit who do not have a supportive family and that is very sad.

So let’s set aside quotas and slogans and other ugly manifestations of force and counterforce and figure out a way for anyone who wants to seriously learn, to be able to do so with support from the state because that is important for Israel, and at the same time find a way for those who want to go to the army and then to work, to be able to do so and hold their head up high and to be welcomed as valuable contributors to the haredi way of life. It won’t happen immediately, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

About the Author
Aron Epstein is a certified public accountant. He made Aliyah with his family in 2009 from Cleveland, Ohio. Aside from an active business Aron enjoys outdoors sports, particularly skiing, although doesn't get enough time to do it.
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