J.J Gross

There can never be a draft law acceptable to the Haredi parties

All the postponement and procrastination in the world will never yield a legally and ethically legitimate solution to the Haredi draft problem.

Haredi refusal to serve, like widespread haredi refusal to pay taxes or fulfill any of the obligations of normative citizens has nothing to do with learning Torah. This is merely a figleaf. Where once upon a time a handful of hand-picked, highly qualified haredim avoided the army in order to learn Torah, today all haredim “learn Torah” in order to avoid the army.

The very notion that every male born into a haredi household is cut out for a life of fulltime learning is beyond absurd. If 10 percent were qualified, that would be astonishing. Full time Talmud study is not for the average person, just as quantum physics or playing violin or lifting weights cannot ever be universal pursuits. It is no wonder that there are virtually no standards of admission to haredi yeshivot, and no exams, term papers or mandatory attendance to determine ongoing eligibility. One merely has to be male and breathe.

To understand why most haredim refuse to shoulder their share of the burden is understandable only once one understands that haredim do not believe in the validity of a Jewish state to begin with. Indeed they do not respect the authority of any state they live in, especially a Jewish one. Chicanery and avoidance of obligations are endemic because too many haredim and their leaders perceive all secular governments as the enemy. This is a holdover from the old Europe where this was actually the case. Hence, anyone perceived as unfriendly is fair game for fiscal shenanigans.

The real question is why the Likud (and Labor would do the same) is willing to enter into a coalition with parties that a priori reject the Zionist enterprise, and view their limited participation in government simply as a means of shaking down those who, after having served in the military, actually work for a living.

In exchange for heavy payoffs, the haredi parties may be willing to rubber stamp any legislation or other government policies not related to their own particular interests. But this is an endless game of blackmail in which the ante is forever being upped.

There is no valid political justification for this. Likud could easily build a coalition comprised exclusively of Zionist parties, thereby saving the taxpaying voters billions

If Bibi’s party were to announce unilaterally that under no circumstances would it allow any non-Zionist party into its coalition, Labor would have no recourse but to do the same. This might result in an initial stalemate and require another round or two of elections. Yet this could well result in voters deciding to not waste their ballots on fringe parties, which would be an enormous boon to the entire country. For the first time ever we might have a proper majority in the Knesset, and a government that could actually govern rather than play musical ministerial chairs and revolving door portfolios.

As for the haredim, they should be left to their own devices. If they truly believe in mesirut nefesh (personal sacrifice) for their ideals then let them live within their means and make the necessary sacrifices to live those ideals. The shakedown must end – no more government support, no more free medical, no more free or reduced arnona, no more police protection, no more trash pickup.

Haredi culture is replete with stories and legends about the extreme penury Torah scholars were prepared to endure for their dedication to Torah learning. There is no greater example than Rabbi Akiva and his wife who sold her hair for mattress stuffing in order to support her husband’s learning.

Haredim should enjoy every right to follow such examples. But they should not be a burden to society, and they should not be our responsibility unless we choose of our own volition to give them charity. If they want to rip off the government, they should move to America or other western countries where their ‘shtick’ are still tolerated. On the other hand, any haredi who wants to live a normal life knows the address of the IDF recruiting office.

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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