Friday, August 08, 2014

A Look at the New Draft Laws in Light of the War

Scene at  a Netzach Yehuda swearing in ceremony (Times of Israel)
Rockets are once again flying overhead in Israel Hamas resumed targeting major population centers like Tel Aviv as soon as the 72 hour cease fire ended. Israel has of course responded.  I don’t think the Israeli Defense Forces will re-enter Gaza. And that should prevent soldiers from being killed. If I understand correctly, most of the soldiers that were killed in action were killed in Gaza.  That of course does not mean that they are out of danger. They are not. But at least the risks have been greatly reduced.

If there was any argument to be made as to why Charedim should be drafted, this war is it. My entire argument in favor of drafting Charedim is that as Jews in a Jewish State - they should not be exempt as a class from being put in harm’s way if no other class of Jews are. It has nothing to do with the high value of Torah study. It has to do with simple fairness.

Many have argued that the army does not really want Charedim to serve. “Too much trouble… more than it’s worth.” “They have enough people fighting and don't need Charedim.” But that does not answer the question of simple fairness. 

The fact happens to be that Netzach Yehuda (Nachal Charedi) has combat units. And their superior officers had nothing but superlatives to say about them. They too are subject to being put in harm’s way.  But they are volunteers. The point being without a mandatory draft - a Charedi does not to want to serve - doesn’t have to. Whereas any other Jew in the country does not have that option. 

While it is true that many – or perhaps even most draftees do not do combat, the fact is that some do. And those that do do not get to exempt themselves from combat duty. Combat soldiers are chosen via physical and psychological exams. Each draftee is profiled so they will be able to serve their country in ways best suited to their talents and temperaments. Charedim should be subject to the same standards.

As an aside, I still believe that an all volunteer army would work and eliminate all these problems. Even now as Israel is at war. Patriots rise to the surface in times like this. There would no doubt be just as many soldiers available to serve in combat as there are now. Ancillary services now being performed by IDF soldiers could be provided by the private sector. 

Be that as it may, as long as there is a mandatory draft, it should be applied equally to all strata. In a Jewish country, all Jews should serve.

There are also those who have argued that those who study Torah are as important - if not more so - than the military in seeking safety and victory from God for His people, Israel. But that too is not a reason not to be drafted. There will be plenty of exemptions for the best and the brightest to continue learning 24/7. And units like Netzach Yehuda allows plenty of time for Torah study - as no doubt will be true for the Charedim that will be drafted. Point being that it cannot be the case that an entire class of people get to avoid being put in harm’s way for that reason.

There was also the argument that the real purpose of drafting Charedim was not to fight in wars - but to assimilate them into becoming non observant Israelis. They called the draft a social engineering experiment. 

To me that is laughable. This is not to say that it can’t happen. It can and it does. But that does not explain units like Hesder. Nor does it explain Netzach Yehuda. Nor does it explain the many Frum Jews who entered the regular army and did just fine. Moreover - the new draft laws include provisions to respect and honor Charedi sensitives. Like creating all male units.

There were some who argued that they might have accepted a draft had it not included a prison penalty for dodging the draft. I have even heard prominent Centrists rabbis say that it should not have included jail time. There too, I must disagree. You cannot have a 2 tier system that favors one segment over another. If non Charedim are subject to a prison penalty, so too should Charedim.

In any case that provision caused just about every Charedi Rav in Israel and even the US to vigorously protest Israel’s new draft laws, calling them anti Torah and calling those who crafted those laws some of the worst names imaginable.

Of course you don’t see any of them saying that now. At least not the sane ones. But I'm not sure that the rhetoric won't return after the war. Significantly we are now seeing a lot of Charedim – hundreds - who understand that they actually should share the burden. And they are volunteering for IDF service.Why are they doing it? From the Times of Israel, here is what they say: 
“We believe that the people of Israel are in the midst of an obligatory war against ruthless enemies who seek to annihilate us,” the ad continued, using biblical language for a battle that all Jews are obligated to fight.
 “We believe it is a great privilege to join the military effort, in addition to our important contribution through Torah study. We too yearn for this precious mitzvah.” 
These young Charedim have the right stuff. That should be the attitude of every single Israeli no matter what their Hashkafos are.

There are some who argue that the draft has reduced the number of Charedi volunteers – whose numbers were increasing in units like Netzach Yehuda. That may be true. But the blame has to placed at the feet of all the extremist anti army rhetoric made by the right in reaction to the draft laws. And that does not take away from the injustice of exempting an entire class of people from army service. Especially when the Israel is at war. Not to mention the fact that the government is making it army service beneficial for Charedim by promising to uphold Charedi standards while also providing them with free job training and skills for the workplace while they are there.

If there is any benefit from the current war in Israel, it should be the clarity of seeing what kind of sacrifices are required of a people and that no one should be given special privileges.

After this is all over (God willing - very soon) my hope is that cooler heads will prevail in the Charedi camp and that a compromise can be found that will be just - and that will make everyone happy.

The one thing I don’t want to see return is the bitterness and the name calling. I think if there is a will by Charedi leaders to comprise on the draft, they will in the end have it all. The values  and lifestyle of the Charedi world will be maintained. The quality of Torah learning will increase even if the numbers decrease. And in my view, quality trumps quantity every single time.