There are many barriers to Haredi military service. But not all of those barriers are about service itself. Some are about the suitability of the environment.
Thus we should disentangle two things – military service and the military environment.
There are supportive Haredi rabbis who now buy into military service but feel pained on the environmental issues.
Even in the writings of the religious Zionist rabbis that founded hesder, decades later, you can see they remain pained by the environment.
If we could have military service in an environment completely tailored for Haredim, would it not help to overcome some of the barriers?
Clearly, not all Haredim would rush to enlist. But perhaps many more would. Maybe enough to plug the growing manpower gap, take the political sting out of the issue, and help a little bit to heal our fractured society.
What would it entail?
Experience has shown that the Netzach Yehuda concept — specialized Haredi battalions inside the IDF — is not enough.
Therefore, it would entail creating a parallel organization to the IDF, institutionally separate from it, but coordinating closely. An inexact analogy — Magen David Adom and United Hatzala. Coordination under a ‘joint chiefs’ style of command, with regular joint exercises.
With freedom to design a military service institution tailored for Haredim (and maybe religious Zionists too, and anyone else seeking the same kind of environment), would it be beyond imagination to imagine a (non-combat) day which combines X hours Torah study with Y hours of service? And a professional career to follow on from service?
And yeshivot-bases set up across Israel? (Perhaps with donations contributing to the cost in the same way that people donate to the building of synagogues, in memory of loved ones, or as a form of thanksgiving.)
This idea has been very much ignored in every circle I have raised it. Why?
Is it because it wouldn’t make a difference — no matter what environment, no Haredi would enlist? I don’t think so. We see that Haredi society is not monolithic, and some elements are more receptive than others.
Is it because in Israel, it has to be the IDF or nothing? The religious boys will just have to get used to it? We would rather have communal hatred and bitter political divide than compromise IDF’s important but perhaps too inflexible integrationist agenda?
I think we are duty bound to think creatively, and to do everything possible to take account the needs and interests of all sectors of our society.
Whatever our religious outlook, achdut, arevut and ahavat yisrael are our essential uncontested values that almost every Jew can agree with.