Friday, December 23, 2005

The Artful Dodgers: Take Two.

Yesterday’s edition of the English language Haaretz contained an article by Nehemia Strasler that was a scathing attack against Charedim who fail to participate in military service.

It has been the policy of Charedim in Israel since the days of the founding of the state to forbid joining the army. The Charedi Gedolim (I think it was primarily the Chazon Ish) managed to work out a deal with Prime Minister David Ben Gurion whereby Charedi studens who learned in Yeshivos full time would be exempt from military service.

The reasons for this policy are not really that clear to me. To the best of my understanding the reasons are as follows: a) Talmud Torah should take precedence over serving in a military of a State non run according to Halacha and b) the environment of the army is so immoral and the chances for violation of Halacha especially in the area of Chilul Shabbos...are so great, that it is Assur even for those who do not learn full time.

I would dispute these arguments. When society’s mere existence is at stake, there is a requirement on two levels to defend oneself, one’s family, and one’s people: a spiritual one and a physical one. The spiritual one is represented by the Bnei Torah who learn Torah L’Shma and waste little time doing it. The physical one is the military. No less great a person made almost that exact statement than Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz during a Seudas Hoda’ah after the “Six Day War.” He gave thanks to both the spiritual warriors AND the physical ones.

The immorality which is quite real I think is a bit over-stated but in any case is an understandable concern. But this too can be addressed by creating Charedi only units of men only that serve in the same capacity and under the same military conditions as Chilonim do.

If the solution is as simple as that, I can well understand the anger expressed by Nehemia Strasler. He sees able bodied men doing nothing more than sitting and studying in books while everyone lese is required to lay their lives on the line for their fellow Jews. Why should Charedim be any more exempt for their studies than secular students would be for theirs? Torah study is the ONLY study where students are exempted for military students. If you are a secular Jew you can only be disgusted when seeing this. I would be. Add to that the fact that another religious community, those of Daati Leumi, not only serves but has the greatest casualty number of any segment in Israel that serves and the claims of the Charedim seem even more outrageous.

And now there is legislation that goes even further... the Tal Law which mandated token army service of Charedim who were finished learning full time and no dangerous duty would be required. Now, instead of basic training they will have to do nothing more than some community service.

How do you face the mother of a son killed in action or permanently maimed with the loss limb or blinded... or both! ...some are paralyzed and/or disfigured ...and God knows what does a Charedi mother tell a secular mother that her secular son had to expose himself to being hurt or killed while your son gets a free pass? Is it any wonder that there is such enmity between these two segments? Frankly I don’t blame these mothers. They are right!

One does not have to go too far to witness hundreds of Charedi men hanging out in the streets free of worry, free of harm while being protected by the very State and army that many of them likely curse on a daily basis. Just walk down Malachei Yisroel Street in the Geula section of Jerusalem any weekday... any time of day... and you will see plenty.

As much as I don’t want to see anyone put in harms way. Least of all people who are Moser Nefesh for Torah on a daily basis, I see no justification for not drafting Charedim... at least in principle. I have a son who lives in Israel and though I desperately do not want him to be put in harms way, in a society like Israel’s, where conscription is a necessity for its very existence, there is no choice. If you want to live in Israel you have to pay the price. Ethically, you cannot rely on others to do the dying for you.

So what would an ethical solution be? Conscription and military service for all Charedim to serve in Charedi units for a period of three years just like secular Israelis do. No exemptions. Limud HaTorh will not be abrogated and the spiritual army will still exist. There can still be a Yeshivas Mir or Brisk. But for a three year period of their lives Charedi young men must do their military service at the same level as the Chilonim ...only in a Charedi environment, where there is no immorality and clear adherence to Halacha. The three year military service can be done at any time in one’s life that one chooses provided it is at an age where combat duty makes sense. Learning can take place before or after that period of service...and even during... when there is time.

I see no other fair alternative. Of course this might drastically reduce the population of the Yeshiva world but I see that as a good thing not a bad one. Because ...THAT... will get rid of the chaff: those students whose only purpose for being there is to avoid the draft, the “artful dodgers” so to speak. The Torah world neither wants that nor needs it. It also, causes an undue strain on Yeshiva budgets and does nothing for Klal Yisroel.

I don’t really think my suggestion will ever be accepted (to put it mildly) and the bitter enmity between Charedim and Chilonim (...certainly a large segment of them if not all of them) will continue. Of course there are other issues that divide us but this one is a big one. If the Torah world of Charedim could show that they are willing to put their lives on the line the same way they are it would go al long way towards resolving this bitter conflict