Thursday, February 23, 2012

Abolish the Draft or Abolish Exemptions

The Tal Law in Israel is about to expire and it will not be renewed according to media reports. The Tal law was a temporary law designed to allow Yeshiva Students to make a decision at age 22 whether to continue learning full time or fulfill their military obligation in a minimal way. One of the options available on this law is to get a year of vocational training followed by a year of volunteer civil service.

By doing this they would gain entry into the workforce.

A lot of Israelis whose sons are drafted at age 18 for 3 years of actual military service and in many cases put their lives at risk – resented this law. Which is of course quite understandable.

The funny thing is that the Charedi establishment did not support even a law like this. Although there were some exceptions (I think Rav Aharon Leib Steinman approved of it) they did not like this law because it would entice young men out of the Beis HaMedrash.

This is the state of mind we are dealing with in the Charedi world. It is bad enough that they do not want to share with the military burden with their Chiloni and Dati brothers and sisters. They aren’t even willing to allow for a government provision to offer a voluntary and honorable way into the work force which did not require any of them to risk harming a hair on their head.

I know all the arguments. The Yeshiva Bachurim are the real ‘army’. They are the ‘soldiers’ protecting the people of Israel.

I can just see the reaction of a Chiloni mother who has lost a son in battle to that statement. Or even a Religious Zionist parent. Or any parent whose sons and daughters put their lives in harm’s way every single day.

I do not deny the importance of Limud HaTorah. I fully acknowledge the spiritual value it provides in protecting the Jewish people all over the world including Israel. But the argument still does not wash with me. Charedi blood is not redder than Dati Blood or Chiloni blood.

Today there are more people learning in just one Yeshiva, (like Lakewood or Mir) than there were in all the Yeshivos in Europe combined in their glory days pre Holocaust. I do not mean to minimize the achievement or value of all those people learning Torah. At least those who are actually learning.

But do we really need to have every available male Jew stay in the Beis HaMedrash forever? Should that be our goal? …to stay as long as one can - even if the learning is not on the highest level?

Is there no room in Halacha for a Jew to participate in the act of physically protecting his people? His country? Eretz Yisroel? Shouldn’t a Yeshiva Bochur who at age 22 decides that the best use of his time is not necessarily in the Beis Hamedrash be given the option do something else? Especially in a way that he can fulfill his service to the nation honorably? And learn a trade courtesy of the government? And then provide for his family?

Is it that much to ask a Yeshiva student at age 22 (after spending all the days of his life up to that point in the Beis HaMedrash) to give up a year of his life for civil service – if he so chooses? And get vocational training in the process? The Tal Law did all that.

I happen to agree that the Tal law is unfair. Not because it has the potential to entice young men away from the Beis HaMedrash. But because they should not be given any more exemptions from military service than anyone else in the country.

Why is it fair that a young Dati or Chiloni soldier must serve in the military for three years while a Charedi doesn’t have to spend a day in the army? Why is it fair that the government devised a law that made it a possibilty for only Charedim to take advantage of? And only if they choose to leave the Beis HaMedrash?

The ultimate question is - why should someone else be required to potentially put his life at risk to protect you and not you vice versa?

That said, I am not a big supporter of a military draft. Even in a country like Israel which is surrounded by enemies who would destroy her in an instant if they were able. I nevetheless believe that Israel would be able to maintain its military advantage with an all volunteer army. The most powerful country in the world does it. Israel should be able to do it too. Combat forces are usually the most elite of the IDF and many people volunteer for it. I don’t believe that there would be any shortage of combat troops in an all volunteer army.

Much of the army consists of non combat positions that could just as easily be filled by the private sector. I wonder what percentage of the IDF is actually involved in combat units?

Abolishing the draft would make this issue disappear. For Jews in the Diaspora it would also have the effect of enhancing the prospects for Aliyah.

I’m not sure why this isn’t a consideration by the Israel government. Maybe it is a matter of principle. Maybe the Israeli government believes that every able bodied man and woman should be required to serve their country in some capacity. I don’t know.

But if it is feasible to maintain the security of the country with an all volunteer army I would disagree with that principle. Serving one’s country is a noble enterprise. But it should not be a requirement for non existential reasons.

Some people are just not cut-out for military service. Some are just plain cowards. Being a coward doesn’t make you a bad person. It just makes you a coward. Cowards are not the people you want protecting you anyway. Besides - there are other ways to contribute to one’s country without joining the military.

I don’t think abolishing the draft is going to happen any time soon – if ever. Which is too bad. We therefore have to deal with the reality given to us in the most equitable way. As long as there is a draft, every able bodied citizen ought to be subject to it. No exceptions. Deferments? Yes. Exemptions? No. Anything less is unfair. Isn’t it?