Friday, February 07, 2014

Charedi Suicide Squads

Rabbi David Zicherman - Photo credit:Kikar HaShabbat (Jewish Press)
Not that I am surprised at this turn of events. But it still doesn’t make me any less disturbed by it. Yesterday there were demonstrations by hundreds (or possibly thousands) of Yeshiva students in Israel protesting the latest development in the draft issue. From the Jewish Press
The provocation was a Supreme Court decision to block support grants to yeshiva students who haven’t registered to serve in the army. Another cause given was the arrest, a month ago, of one yeshiva student who had failed to register with the draft office. 
I understand their angst. These are funds they have relied upon for decades in order to subsist. And suddenly the rug was pulled out from under them.

The arguments from the right opposing the draft of Charedim are many and furious. Mostly having to do with their perception that the Israeli government’s new policies on this issue are based on anti Semitism. 

You read that correctly. They claim that the government of Israel’s hatred of Charedim is the same as the Nazi hatred of the Jews. I have seen more than one Charedi editorial in effect saying that if you take the anti Charedi statements made by some government officials, and replace the word Charedi with the word Jew, the  Jewish media would be screaming anti Semitism.

Yes, Charedi leaders are angry. But I do not understand their inability see what this is really about. It is as if they have blinders on. They have never addressed the one justifiable claim that I cannot get past. The fact that by virtue of avoiding the draft, Charedim have zero chance of being put in harm’s way. This is unlike all other citizens of Israel, including Dati Leumi and religious Zionists.  The retort has always been that most soldiers are not put in harm’s way… and that in any case Charedim are not needed - the army having more than enough manpower without them.

But that misses the point entirely. By leaving themselves out of the pool of recruits available for combat, they get to live. No Charedi mother ever has to worry if her son will come home in one piece... or come home in a box! All Israeli recruits are subject to possible combat or other dangerous missions. Charedim don’t have to worry about that.

Charedim claim that they provide service to the nation by simply studying Torah in the Beis HaMedrash. I agree that Torah study is a valuable enterprise of paramount importance. And that it is undervalued by the government. But at the same time I do not believe that every Charedi in the State of Israel ought to be exempt from service simply because he has a seat in a Beis HaMedrash somewhere.

Although I support anyone’s right to learn full time so for as long as he wishes as long as he is not a burden to society – even if he isn’t among the cream of the crop - I do not support all of them being permanently exempt from the draft. Only the ‘best and brightest ought to be.

Meanwhile the rabbis of the right keep screaming  Gezeiras  HaShmad. And the most strident among them say they will resist to the death any attempt to be inducted. Their fear is that compulsory army service will destroy the Charedi world as we know it. And worse - it will ruin the Yiddshkeit of the inductees. They point to statistics where soldiers from observant homes have either stopped being observant or have severely reduced levels of observance.

I’m sure they can point to numerous examples of this. But I do not accept that this will be the rule for sincerely devout Charedim that are inducted. Especially since the government has promised to accommodate their Charedi Chumros like having all male units. ( ...a promise that they ought to be held accountable for.)

But as I said the Charedi religious leaders, their politicians in the Kenesset, and their willing accomplices in the Charedi media keep screaming foul… as though they are the injured party. Injured?! Let them go visit some of the permanently wounded veterans to see what ‘injured’ means... or Har Herzl where soldiers who gave thoer lives for their country are buried!

I recently had a private e-mail correspondence with a Charedi journalist on this issue, and he was implacable. He believes that Israel will be destroyed if Charedim are drafted. The government will never withstand the grass roots Charedi protests, he said. He believes in the rectitude of his position and adds with pride that ‘all the Gedolim are on his side’. The State of Israel cannot win. Charedim will prevail because God is on their side.

And he may not be that far off in his prediction if this recent protest is any indication. The rhetoric coming out of their side continues to be vile. From the Jewish Press
Rabbi David Zicherman, one of the leaders of the Jerusalem Haredim, spoke heatedly before the demonstrators, calling the current situation Gzeirot Shmad-Jewish annihilation decrees of 5774…
As his speech continued, it became clear that the good rabbi was not a man of understatements. He threatened the authorities that they would surely be facing “suicide squads who will give their lives for the Torah.” 
Suicide squads?! This is beyond ridiculous, but this is what some of these rabbis are preaching. They are telling Charedi students that they must sacrifice their lives in protest before allowing themselves to be drafted. Which is what what a Jew is supposed to do when there is a real Gzeiras HaShmad, like there was it the era of the Chashmonoim (Maccabees). 

I have no clue how far this will go. But I cannot imagine a scenario where there will be tens of thousands of students (or more) protesting in the streets with placards screaming anti government slogans and epithets at soldiers and government officials, with some of them being arrested and thrown I jail. If that happens on a large scale, I do not see life going on as usual. 

Anti Viet Nam War Protesters 
I am reminded of another time in another country. It was the seventies and there was an unpopular war being fought in South East Asia. That country was the United States. They too had a draft. And students protested then too. Big time. The war was considered unjust. There were riots in the streets; sit-ins in college university offices; draft cards were burned; police were spat upon and called the vilest of names... "Hell no, we won't go!" became the clarion call of a huge segment of the university student population. They too had leaders in government supporting them. As did much of the media. It caused an American President to not seek a second term. 

I don’t see much difference. Only the cause is different. The rhetoric and militant resistance is the same;  it has already started; and it will get worse.

Why, O why can’t cooler heads prevail?  Why can’t the right see the inherent inequity of exempting an entire class of people? Why can’t they instead seek compromise and negotiation with the government? Why must they see the devil behind every corner? How can they vilify by implication every single religious solider? How can they not condemn the evil vilification of Charedi soldiers by their own extremists?

How can they not recognize the sacrifice of those who have given life and limb to protect them and their families? How can they not appreciate the sacrifice others have made on their behalf? How can they in any way call this a Gzeiras HaShmad? And they wonder why the rest of Jewry – both observant and secular is so upset with them?!