Adam Gross

‘My stiff-necked people, listen up’ – Episode 1: Charedim in the IDF

It’s quite exasperating to see the same arguments, the same dogmatism, the same polarization, the same inability to see things from other people’s perspective, the same reluctance to reach consensus on so many of the fundamental issues here in Israel, even as the nation fights for its survival and the international standing and safety of the Jewish people seems to be – rightly or, more often, wrongly – in freefall.

We are betrayed by a cadre of unimaginative, inflexible, and (all too often) sour-faced leaders who keep us going in circles on the same old issues, and survive in power in significant part through polarization and manipulation.

As Brig-Gen Dan Goldfus spoke yesterday, ‘the politicians must be worthy of us’, referring to the sacrifices made by the nation’s military heroes in the conflict with Hamas. I think the politicians must be worthy also of the ordinary Israeli as well. We don’t deserve these trolls as leaders who seem ready to spout the first ‘lashon hara’ that enters their mind to put down their brothers and sisters. We don’t deserve these amoral rogues who idolize ‘right’ and ‘left’ rather than pursue right and wrong.

There are very few if any true leaders among Israel’s political elite who embody the idea of principled ‘servant leadership’, investing in achdut, ahavat yisrael and or l’goyim, that characterizes our Jewish heroes throughout the ages, from Moshe Rabbeinu and David Hamelech to more modern leaders like Rav Kook, David Ben Gurion and Menachem Begin.

While I respect very much the military service that many of our leaders have performed, I can’t think of many Israeli politicians I can say I truly admire. Usually I try to think more in terms of those that I least dislike (although maybe that’s the language barrier at play too.)

Charedim in the IDF is one of those issues where the worst of our stiff-necked tendencies seems to come to the fore.

For all the fancy writing and sophisticated reasoning of the nation’s journalists and opinion-formers, we seem to have had decades now of articles on the charedi military service issue whose core message boils down either to ‘charedim must serve in the IDF’ or ‘there’s no way charedim should serve in the IDF’.

Let me be clear on what I think a compromise looks like by first saying what I understand to be the issues that, in my view as a non-charedi, rightly motivate charedim to resist the draft as currently formulated:

  1. Many charedim do not want their children mixing in a secular society in which many values stand contrary to Torah (notwithstanding my own personal view that there are many admirable traits about Israel secular society, and my conviction that Torah law would mandate military service.)
  2. Many charedim do not want to break their commitment to unbroken lifelong Torah study (notwithstanding the fact that there are significant numbers of charedim who are not really full-time students of Torah.)
  3.  Many charedim do not want to be at the service of a secular organization from a secular country whose legitimacy in Jewish terms they do not accept (notwithstanding my own personal view as a religious zionist that the existence of the State of Israel, even though secular in nature, does have religious significance.)
  4. Many charedim are wary of the ethos of ‘my strength and the might of my hand that has accumulated this wealth for me’ (Deuteronomy 8:17), that national service may diminish the important conviction that all comes from Hashem.

Let’s be frank. There is no way that the IDF can properly cater for charedim. Yes, there’s the Netzach Yehudah Battalion, but the level of acceptance is minimal, mainly on the furthest fringes of charedi society. While I recognize the commitment and dedication of those behind Netzach Yehudah and respect their efforts, charedi leaders have made it clear this is no solution.

Addressing the issues above requires:

  1. Charedim serve in a separate organization with a bona fide charedi ethos that is not the IDF but coordinates with the IDF, in a similar way that United Hatzalah coordinates closely with Magen David Adom.
  2. The organization in which charedim serve provides for a daily routine which combines Torah study and prayer with military service.

This is so obvious to me but yet it seems so many people cannot get past the IDF part.

The idea of a military organization that is not the IDF is anathema, not even worth consideration. Our stiff-neckedness seems to mean we would rather mass societal conflict then consider other approaches that respect the charedi worldview and principles.

How could this other approach work?

The Talmud emphasizes the fundamental importance of defense of border towns.

I can imagine an organization which is established at yeshivah-bases in Israel’s border towns, from Sderot and Netivot in the south to Metulla and Kiryat Shemona in the north.

Large yeshivahs established in which thousands of charedim can live a totally charedi existence, with particular focus studying the laws of war and the halachos of a Jewish army, while performing functions that strengthen the security of these areas and the country as a whole – patrols, observation, surveillance, technology, fortification, evacuation, logistics, munitions and yes, also combat.

Significant funding available to establish, equip and expand these yeshivahs, an incentive for cash-starved charedi society, and at the same time an investment in national security.

Lifelong professional opportunities for charedim who learn valuable technical skills in performing their service, offering the possibility for a career in the organization, or an entry point to gainful employment elsewhere, another incentive for cash-starved charedi society and at the same time an investment in the national economy.

We must contemplate an organization by charedim for charedim for this issue to be resolved.

About the Author
Adam Gross is a strategist that specialises in solving complex problems in the international arena. Adam made aliyah with his family in 2019 to live in northern Israel.
Related Topics
Related Posts