Monday, March 24, 2014

A Blow to the New Draft Law

Prayer rally in Jerusalem a few weeks ago. Photo credit: Jerusalem Post
Charedim will never be thrown in jail en masse for resisting the draft. This fact of life is already being played out at the earliest stages of the new draft law in Israel. The widespread opposition by Charedi rabbinic leaders to the new recruitment centers where their students will receive automatic deferments and exemptions has caused the government back off from their requirement to do so. The older procedure for doing so will still be maintained.

One may ask, why is the Charedi rabbinic leadership so opposed to the new recruitment centers? An exemption is after all - an exemption… isn’t it?

Well not exactly. From  the Jerusalem Post
The haredi daily newspaper Yated Ne’emanpublished a report on Friday saying that haredi youth and yeshiva students who receive induction notices, or who go to obtain their deferrals or exemptions, would be required to attend the new haredi induction centers, where they would receive information about the IDF and the benefits of enlistment. 
And that is what is upsetting to the Charedi leadership: 
The haredi leadership was extremely concerned that some of the yeshiva students would be tempted to enlist after being exposed to the information provided at the new centers. 
Charedi leaders have threatened to tell their students to boycott these centers. And any Charedi doing so would be in violation of the law and subject to arrest. That was enough for the government. They have backed down.  Deferrals and exemptions will now be given the old fasiohend way, without any explanation of the benefits of joining the army.

Some may say that this is just kicking the can down the road. That eventually draft resisters will be arrested when in three years exemptions will no longer be automatic and only the elite will be exempt. But I don’t see that happening. As I said many times the last thing the Israeli government wants is images in the media of masses students being dragged out of the study hall at gunpoint, placed under arrest, and thrown in prison. Aside from that terrible image, the kind of resistance that the government in Israel would get would be unprecedented in both numbers and intensity.

Why are Charedi leaders so opposed to their students finding any merit in army service? Because they fear that too many of their students wouldopt for the army and leave Beis HaMedrash. That would severely change the paradigm they have worked so hard to create and perpetuate over the past 60 years. A paradigm of full time Torah study for everyone at the expense their material welfare. No job training. No secular education. No training of any kind. Just training in the skills of Gemarah study. So that certain study skills that are learned by everyone else, are missing from their repertoire. While they have mastered the skills of Gemarah study - they have no clue how to study for other disciplines.

This is what the Charedi leadership wants to keep in place. They know very well that there will be no mass arrests, not now and not 3 years from now. What they fear is a voluntary attrition when it becomes evident that what the government really wants is for those who choose to do so, to have options that will benefit them and their families. That fear and is made obvious by their threat to boycott the new recruitment centers precisely for those reasons.

How sad it is that they are looking a gift horse in the mouth and don’t see what is in front of them. They have the opportunity to ease the pain of poverty among their people by simply letting them choose, and instead they threaten a boycott.

Is keeping all their students in the dark about about the army the only way they can keep them in line? Because that’s what it seems like. The only way they can keep all Charedim in the Beis Hamedrash it seems is by denying them access to the truth. They fear some of their students may enlist after hearing the benefits.

This development undermines their entire argument that the government is forcing them to leave the Beis HaMedrash.  And that the government’s goal is to jail students for studying Torah. Not a single Charedi student would beforced to leave the Beis Hamdrash now. Not a single student will be arrested for desiring to continue learning as before. No one would have been arrested unless they failed to report to the new recruitment centers  from which they would have recieved their deferments and eventual exemptions (if they so choose).

The only thing they were required to do, is listen to the options the army made available to them. And that was enough to threaten a boycott. Why? Because God forbid their entire paradigm would change from one of every single Charedi student in Israel spending as long as possible in the Beis HaMedrash to one where only the most talented and motivated would do so.

I do not understand this attitude at all. I know how important Torah study is to them. I’ve been there. I have gone to Charedi Yeshivas. I have heard the Drashos and Shmuessen – the rabbinic arguments, Mussar and pep talks. Many times. Talmud Torah Keneged Kullom.  Torah study supersedes all else. Torah Umnaso. The highest achievement any Jew can achieve is when Torah study becomes his the length of their days.  

Nevertheless - the extent they are going to preserve a financially unsustainable system still boggles the mind. I do not believe that God intends every single Jew on the planet to spend the rest of his days on earth in the Beis Hamdrash to lead a life of poverty for himself and his family. A poverty that has become all too common. But this is the paradigm that Charedi leaders want to preserve and protect.

God willing - despite the rabbinic opposition to these new recruitment centers - there will be a grass roots movement among Charedim to check things out anyway. If enough of them do it… and some of them opt for army service that honors their religious sensibilities - maybe the paradigm will change. And the Charedi world will evolve into a far more productive one both materially and spiritually.

The truly capable and motivated will continue to study and be supported. The rest will do what God intended for them to do. They will find their niche and serve God better that way by utilizing their God given talents and abilities in areas more suited to them. That will reduce the poverty tremendously. The Charedi world will thrive. If only this new draft law with all its positive features is given the chance.