Dovid Kornreich
An anglo-Haredi blogger who speaks his mind
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One Haredi man’s view on drafting yeshiva boys

Jewish sovereignty is not a high priority for us, and it's well below endangering a single Jewish life in order to maintain it
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man and an Israeli soldier praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. February 22, 2012. (Uri Lenz/FLASH90)
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man and an Israeli soldier praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. February 22, 2012. (Uri Lenz/FLASH90)

As the title implies, the perspectives and arguments written below are my own and do not claim to represent anyone’s views but my own. While it is certainly true that my outlook has been wholly shaped and formed by my long-term and deep immersion in the Haredi Israeli yeshiva world and its values, I cannot claim to be an authority who is able to put forward the Haredi approach to the question of drafting yeshiva students, especially as it pertains to this particular crisis.

With this disclaimer in mind, I would like to start by asserting something that should be self-evident to everyone: Haredim are not Zionists. While this may be unsurprising as a statement of ideology, the implications of this ideology will be quite unnerving and disconcerting to many.

One direct consequence of this non-Zionist position is that Jewish sovereignty over any part of the biblical land of Israel – or any part of any land for that matter – is not very high on our list of priorities. It is certainly far below the level of putting a single Jewish life in danger in order to achieve it or maintain it. Not for the Kotel, not for Kever Rachel, and certainly not for any Jewish settlement over the Green Line. In principle, all of it should be traded away for the sake of keeping Jews safe from the threat of Arab terrorism – if this would be the predictable result. Rav Chaim Soloveitchik was known to have said that even hastening the final redemption itself and putting an end to all Jewish suffering in exile is not worth the cost of an avoidable loss of a single Jewish life.

The fact that hundreds of thousands of Haredim have benefited greatly from the accomplishments of the Zionists who fervently feel Jewish sovereignty is worth putting Jewish lives at risk, has been an ongoing moral dilemma for those Haredim who are aware of it. I would argue, however, that the Zionist movement has de-facto put ALL Jewish lives at risk all over the world in its quest for Jewish sovereignty – including Haredim. (Ironically, the greatest cause of anti-Jewish violence since WWII has been the establishment of the State of Israel and the mass displacement of Arabs in its wake.) I believe this somewhat justifies the Haredim benefiting from the religious gains made possible by Zionist state-building.

But the fact remains that one of the main points of conflict between Zionists and non-Zionists is the human price that ought to be paid for having a Jewish state and maintaining sovereignty over much of the Biblical Land of Israel.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews block a road during a protest against the Haredi draft bill, on road number 4, outside the city of Bnei Brak, February 9, 2022. (Flash90)

Haredim don’t need to control their own state in order to have feelings of self-worth and dignity. We are still “galut Jews” at the core, and 70+ years of statehood have not significantly shifted our disposition in favor of nationalism to the extent that it is worth any significant sacrifice.

We don’t take any kind of national pride in having a flag flying at the U.N. (which receives more condemnations and negative resolutions than any other state), and having embassies around the world (which are regular targets of terrorist plots). The fact that Israeli companies are leading manufacturers of killer drones and surveillance technology is not a source of Jewish religious pride. Nor do we Haredim take any pride in Israeli athletes taking part in and winning prizes in the Olympics, or Israeli performers in Eurovision contests. We certainly don’t take pride in the ‘start-up nation’ phenomenon which has culminated in an explosion of the predatory online scamming industry in which Israelis have unfortunately been wildly overrepresented.

Let us try to answer the deeper question: Why aren’t Haredim morally obligated to contribute to the defense of their country?

Zionism and deadly force

Let us first look at the checkered history of Zionism, sans the whitewashing that is usually employed in order to make the case for the Jewish state on the international stage. One gigantic moral stain that we try to ignore is that the Political Zionist movement has never considered large-scale human suffering and death a sufficient reason to abandon the Zionist project.

We should never forget the proven ability of the various Zionist factions to use deadly force against fellow Jews who were getting in the way of their political or nationalistic ambitions. Prominent examples include assassinations of Jacob Israel de-Haan, Haim Arlosoroff, Jewish collaborators with the British, the “Hunting Season“, the bombing of the King David Hotel, which had many Jewish casualties, and of course, the sinking of the Altalena. We should never forget the large-scale, state-sponsored forced assimilation projects of Sephardic and Yemenite Jewish communities. They had no choice but to emigrate to Israel as a result of the creation of the Jewish state, and their traditional way of life was treated with open derision and contempt by the secular Ashkenazi Zionist elite. The massive disruption to their lives precipitated by the Zionist enterprise, came at a tremendous physical, emotional, and spiritual cost. (See an earlier post of mine on this subject)

And it goes without saying that the Zionists didn’t consider Arab mass displacement and forced resettlement/refugee status – and all the human suffering that this caused – too high a price for Jewish statehood.

The corollary of this principled willingness to use violence and displacement of hundreds of thousands of people for the sake of establishing a Jewish state is that it must live with a perpetual lack of moral justification and physical security. The bitter resentment traditional Jews harbor towards the Zionist movement, and the threat of Arab retaliatory violence for their humiliation and displacement at the hands of the Zionists is both predictable and understandable. (It constantly baffles me why Zionist Jews and Israelis are so scandalized by Haredi non-Zionism and even anti-Zionism and are frustrated at the Palestinians who stubbornly refuse to concede defeat and resign themselves to Israeli sovereignty over their ancestral homes. Would the militant Zionists have conceded defeat and forsworn any future violent resistance had they lost the War of Independence and were turned into refugees or forced to become citizens of an Arab state?)

Existing with a perpetual threat of violence from Arabs and the need for a standing army to thwart it was a bargain the Zionists were willing to live with in exchange for Jewish sovereignty. But they didn’t ask any of us non-Zionists if we agreed to that bargain.

So while it may be impossible to turn back the clock and pretend that the Jews of Israel today can live as a minority in peaceful co-existence with the Arabs under majority Arab rule, the burden of maintaining Jewish sovereignty by dint of constant military preparedness shouldn’t be put at the feet of those who never did, and never will, choose violence to achieve nationalistic aims.

This is the historical perspective that I believe is necessary to understand the principled refusal of Haredim to enlist in the IDF.

When religious Zionists clamor that there is a religious and moral obligation to join the IDF and not leave it entirely in the hands of others to defend them, they are usually conflating the need to defend Jews with the need to defend the state of the Jews. They are not the same thing. Religious Zionists often lack the self-awareness to realize that it is only their nationalist ideology that turns Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel into a religious obligation that can justify putting Jewish lives at risk. They cannot fathom that Haredim would actually be willing to give up the Temple Mount and Kever Rochel if it would reduce the deadly hostility that our in-your-face sovereignty over these places engenders with the Palestinians.

October 7th

One might argue that all this simply does not apply to the current situation where there is clearly an immediate existential threat to all Jews living in Israel – state or no state. Surely for reasons of pure self-preservation, the Haredim should be willing or be forced to enlist in some form of defense capacity?

To be honest, I was inclined to think along these lines at the early stage of the Israeli response to October 7th. I feared that upon seeing the immense loss of Palestinian life and destruction of homes in Gaza as the days wore on, the Arab-Israeli population would eventually rise up in murderous rage and attack any Jew in sight. In such a scenario, we all would certainly come under existential threat and there would be no choice but for Haredim to train and join some kind of civilian, local self-defense apparatus. But thankfully, this scenario has not come to pass and seems unlikely to present itself in the near future with a ceasefire just around the corner.

The blessed reality is that Hamas does not have – and never had – even on October 7th – the capacity to pose a real existential threat to most of the Jews of Israel. They do not have anywhere near the necessary manpower or military equipment to actually take over the country and kick us out, even if that is their fervent wish and stated goal. A fervent wish and stated goal does not an existential threat make. The fact that Hamas was able to pull off such a deadly attack on a scale never seen before is more a testament to the utter failure of the defense establishment to prepare for a glaring threat on the horizon than the military capacity of Hamas’ fighters.

So we are back to the need for perpetual military preparedness to preserve Jewish sovereignty against the Arab threat of violent retribution for said Jewish sovereignty.

A situation that Haredim never bargained for in the first place.

About the Author
Dovid Yitzchak Kornreich grew up in the U.S. and made aliya when he married in 1996. He has been studying Talmud and Jewish thought for over 30 years and has taught a variety of Jewish subjects in two Jewish institutions in Jerusalem for over 15 years. He has an enduring interest in the conflicts between Torah and contemporary thought, specifically Science & Feminism
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