Sunday, February 23, 2014

The End of the Charedi World as We Know it?

R' Shmuel Auerbach - Photo Credit: Arutz Sheva
The draft is one big step closer to reality today. Most issues have been settled. The only thing that seems to be remaining before it is voted into law is the number of exemptions. When that is settled it appears that Charedim in Israel will be drafted into serving their country. Either in the military or in some other form of national service (…although there will be a grace period of a few years so that the infrastructure can be set up to accommodate them along the lines of Nachal Charedi). 

One would think that finally at long last a long standing inequity will be eliminated. Now every able bodied member of Israel will ‘share the burden’. But will it?

Not if Rav Shmuel Auerbach has his way. He is promising to fight to the death this ‘evil decree’. There will be no compromise… no surrender!  "We will fight until the death for our rights." 

This sets the stage for protests unlike anything Israel has ever seen. One can imagine what will happen if the police start entering Yeshivos during a morning Seder and start rounding up students and Avreichim that resisted the draft. It conjures up images of Nazis rounding up Jews in occupied Europe during the Holocaust. Another image is that of police and Charedim doing physical battle with each other in the streets.

It is now virtually certain that this kind of confrontation will take place since the penalty for resisting the draft will be prison. Not the lesser financial penalty suggested by some. There are not enough jails in Israel to contain the vast numbers of threatened resistors.

Added into the mix is Hesder. Religious Zionist students can sign up for a 5 year program of joint 3 and ½  years of Yeshiva and 16 months of military service. The committee has decided to increase by one month the amount of time that Hesder boys spend on the military side of there program. This has upset the Religious Zionists who rightfully claim that the Hesder boys are among the most valiant soldiers – often volunteering in groups to take on the most dangerous military assignments. Implied in their anger of this is the question, ‘Is this the thanks they get for the kind of high quality service they perform?’

Everybody’s got an angle. No one wants their ox to be gored. They only want the other guy’s ox gored if they consider that ox to be worthy of said goring. When they are crossed they tend to go over to the other side and unite in opposition to the goring ox.

The focus of the anger in this case is Yair Lapid, the Finance Minister whose signature campaign issue of was drafting Charedim into the army.  The campaign was so successful that his new party became the second largest one in Israel - which says something about the will of the Israeli people (His popularity has since plunged because of his heavy handed approach to slashing the budget. But that is beside the point. The will of the people on this issue is clear.) Lapid is drawing fire from everyone. 

Religious Zionists like blogger ‘JoeSettler’ (who actually thinks Charedim should serve their country in some capacity) are now saying that all the Charedi accusations about Lapid are correct. That he is at war against the Torah! Indeed one might think so based on some of the things he said on his on Facebook page about Charedim.

I am not in a position to judge anyone’s true motives. But I have yet to see any hard proof that Lapid is the ‘Jewish anti Semite’ he is increasingly being accused of by the religious segments of society.

I’m sure that I will be called na├»ve by my critics. Especially those in in Israel that are closer to the situation than I. But I remain unconvinced. Not because I am a ‘Lapid lover’. But because I try and look at things objectively based on the facts as I see and understand them. Let us examine some of those facts to see just how true these accusations are.

First let us set up the problem. An entire segment of Israeli society was up to this point exempt from any kind of service at all – military or national. This is based on similar situations in other civilzed countries. Divinity students in civilized societies like the United States have always been exempted  because of their special calling.

I actually agree with that type of exemption. What I do not agree with is when an entire population of a of a huge segment of society uses it. True… all Charedim are enrolled in yeshivas. But  it cannot be the case that every single male member of that society has as his purpose in life - full time Torah study.  But that is what Charedim will tell you. The only way someone ends up not doing so is if they are at some level ‘Off the Derech’. The rest stay in Yeshivos for many years no matter how suited they are to the task.

Divinity exemptions should be given only to the elite who truly are the bright lights of Torah… those who will contribute to the world of Torah Knowledge by their continued study. The draft law recognizes this and will exempt such students. There will continue to be divinity exemptions. The only questions that remains is how many and how will they be chosen?  Men of good will should be able to work that out. This is apparently Lapid’s position too.

What about the severe sanction of jail for draft dodgers? That was the option chosen by the Shaked committee of the Kenesset whose mission it is to craft new draft legislation. This was what Lapid lobbied for as opposed to a lighter financial penalty suggested by others. Does supporting this make one anti Charedi? Not in my view.  There should be no difference in the penalty  between religious and secular draft dodgers. Either everyone gets a financial penalty for dodging the draft or everybody goes to jail. To treat Charedim differently is to perpetuate an inequity.

Why am I so pro drafting Charedim? The primary issue for me is and always has been being put in harm’s way. I have NEVER heard a single satisfactory response to the question of why all citizens should not be subject to the same possibility of risk. Why should any entire segment get to be exempt from that?

The argument that the army doesn’t need Charedim; that actual combat missions require only a small segment of the actual armed services in Israel and that there are more than enough serving in that capacity now - does not answer the question!  Unless I hear a satisfactory answer to this, I remain with the opinion that Charedim should indeed be put into that pool in similar proportion to everyone else. Either that or eliminate the draft and make the army voluntary. I personally think it can work. But that is not going to happen.

So is Lapid anti religious? In my mind the evidence says no, despite some of the angry anti Charedi rehtoric attributed to him. I don’t really blame him for fits of anger when he is constantly being attacked as being evil Incarnate by Charedi rabbinic leaders and their surrogates in the Knesset!

(It is interesting to note that there are members of the Kenesset on the left that criticize Lapid for supporting this plan saying that it does not live up to the goal of equalizing things for everybody. Hesder only got a one month increase and the draft will not begin until 2017.)

I still remember what he said during the campaign to Charedi law students at Kiryat Ono College. He echoed it here. From the World Jewish Daily:
Nonetheless, Lapid also pledged that the government would not abandon the concerns of the Haredim. He said "this is not an attempt to hurt your way of life, we are obligated to help you to work and provide for your families…"
I have no reason to doubt him.

It gives me no pleasure to see how Charedim are reacting to this. They are understandably pained. They see the implementation of this bill as the end of the Charedi world as they know it. The fact is that it will be. And it will be hard.

But it will not be the end of the Charedi world. It will only be the end as they know it.  It will be the beginning of a new improved Charedi world. They will now enter a new world of better choices. They will be less looked down upon by seculars, and yet will be able to continue their way of life religiously. Their Yeshivos will be tighter and more productive. Their ability to support themselves will be improved. Their overall contributions to Yiddishkeit will soar as will their spiritual growth. Because spiritual growth happens best when there is less poverty in one’s life. And Yeshiva life will not change for Charedim in any case until age 21. That is the age that any Charedi can defer his service too. Yeshivos will still be full of students age 21 and under.

Charedi resistance to the draft is fierce. It will be fought in many ways. Some more violent than others. I hope that it does not happen. I hope not a single Charedi student is jailed. (I somehow think this will never happen no matter what.) My hope is that they go along with this and leave the exemptions to this who truly deserve it. That is the kind of ending that will benefit everyone. If on the other hand there is the kind of ‘war’ that Rav Auerbach is threatening, who knows where it will lead. Time will tell.