Monday, June 25, 2012

Sackcloth and Ashes?!

OK. I understand the Charedi position with respect to army service in Israel. They are vehemently opposed to it. But a mass rally of Tehillim sitting on the ground and fasting as though it were Tisha B’Av?! As though the possibility of their youth serving in the army was comparable to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash?! Calling army service virtually the same as worshiping the ancient idol Molech - where children were human sacrifices to be burned on an alter?


Lest anyone think I am exaggerating, I am not. This is how an article in the Jewish Press described the event that took place this morning. This is how it was advertised in headline coverage in 3 Charedi newspapers, the Yated, Hamevaser, and Hamodia. It appears that every segment of the Charedi rabbinic leadership has supported this rally in opposition to the possibility of drafting Charedim.

I completely understand why they feel so strongly about it. They feel that the draft has the potential to destroy the very foundation upon which Charedi society is built upon. They fear that once their young people experience 3 years in the army, they will never return to the Beis HaMedrash. In some cases they may even go OTD.

The environment of the army is a very powerful influence. It has been thought by some to be as much an experiment in social engineering as it is a defense force. Traumatized by the Holocaust and centuries of anti Semitic persecution, many of the founding fathers of the State wanted their populace to have a sense of unity and purpose grounded in the idea that we will never again be sheep to the slaughter.

Nor will we go back to the days of the Shtetl mentality where they believed such thinking was produced. We will instead be a strong and proud nation of Jews who can defend ourselves. And an enlightened people who no longer look to the ancient and archaic ideals of the Torah but to the new ideals of enlightenment where religion is seen at best as cultural and at worst as a bunch of silly superstitions.

All this Charedi angst is understandable if one believes this to be the case in the army currently.

The problem with this kind of thinking is that it is no longer true… if it ever really was. There may have been some who in the early days of the State wanted the army to produce this particular model of the Jew. But there was another model that countered it and proved to be the most effective fighting force in the entire IDF. These were the religious  Zionist sons and daughters who joined the army and served their country well, defending it - and in some tragic cases, dying for it.

Historically the most courageous units were the Hesder boys who often enlisted in groups and volunteered for the most dangerous combat assignments. There may be some who went OTD. But the army was not the cause of that. It may have accelerated it… but they were on their way “out’ anyway.

In the Hesder units, this was far from the case. The Hesder boys are dedicated to Yiras Shomyim, Limud HaTorah, and the physical protection of their people - including all the Charedim who were at that rally this morning.

But let us even say that Hesder is something they strongly oppose Hashkaficly because it is part of a Zionism that they see as anathema to Torah law. And because even though they accommodate religious observance - they do not accommodate the strictures adopted by Charedim.

OK, I understand that too.

But the government has a unit that does accommodate them. Via Nachal Charedi and Shachar, the IDF goes out of its way to assure that Charedim will be able to stay loyal to their values. If I understand correctly, the government wants to expand these programs to accommodate the greater numbers of Charedim that will now be drafted if the law is changed to a universal draft of some kind.

So with all due respect to the Israeli rabbinic leadership, how in heaven’s name can they compare the army to idol worship? What does that say about their very own Charedim who now serve in it?!

Nonetheless I still understand their fear, Even if the army were all Charedi, they would still be opposed to it for fear that it would destroy the system as we now know it. That those who will return to the Beis HaMedrash full time will only be a small fraction of those who are there now. But does that require that we say Tehillim as though it were Tisha B’Av? I can understand protest. But… this?!

In my opinion, if Charedim are drafted into the army under conditions that are entirely Charedi, that is a good thing. It will purify the process of Limud HaTorah – returning it to the pristine era where Yeshivos catered only to the most elite of students. Only those who are motivated to learn Torah full time will return to the Beis Hamedrash after serving their country. 

Only the cream of the crop - the elite – those who truly achieve great heights in Torah learning will continue to do so and become our future Torah leaders. The rest will continue to learn by being Koveiah Itim - setting aside time for learning daily while primarily being in the workforce and supporting their families – possibly even getting some training for the workforce in the army.

The entire community will fare better because of it. Poverty will begin to be alleviated and those who choose to go back to the Beis HaMedrash full time will be better funded - as their financial pie of communal support will grow while being distributed to less and more deserving - people. It’s a win/win for everyone in my view. Not to mention the fact that from what I understand Charedim will even be able to opt out of actual military service and serve in communal Chesed type projects – akin to Sherut Leumi for women.

So if I were in charge, I wouldn’t be calling for a day of prayer and fasting. I would be saying Hallel!