Monday, August 01, 2016

Charedi-Lite and the Draft

Charedim protest the arrest of a Charedi draft dodger a while ago (Ynet)
About ten or so years ago, a young Avreich (Kollel member) in a major Yeshiva in Israel told me that there are significant numbers of students registered in his yeshiva that are not studying Torah at all. They do not show up in Seder (the scheduled study period). At best - they just hang out all day and ‘shmooz’ (have idle conversations). At worst – who knows what they do. He called it ‘a real problem’!

What the actual percentages were then (or what they are now for that matter) is not known. Nor am I sure they can be. Resistance by the Charedi leadership to any kind of government investigation would be strong.  It would be seen as a witch hunt. The blow-back would probably destroy the ruling government coalition.

But I believed him then, and I believe him more now. There are probably a lot more Charedi students like that than many people think. A significant number although probably a relatively small minority of the total.

Some of these young men go further and are what I call Charedi-Lite – leading a somewhat secular lifestyle.

Ynet reports that the IDF revoked the exemptions of 4000 Charedi students that currently lead a secular lifestyle: 
Search on social media found photos of many ultra-Orthodox men in immodest clothing at the beach, partying on the weekend, or socializing with women; some have already been drafted. 
I’m not sure how many of these Charedi students are actually OTD - although I’m sure some are. My guess is that most are like the fellow who described himself this way: 
"How do I define myself? I hate black hatters (slang for ultra-Orthodox Jews - ed.), yet I'm religious! I don't observe the separation of the sexes as I've had a girlfriend for four years - but I keep kosher and I of course keep the Shabbat." 
The Yeshivos that register these students have not done much to discourage them.  Gone are the days when a Rav Shach would threaten his students that if they don’t ‘learn’ – off to the IDF they will go. Now these students are registered, don’t show up, and some Yeshivos don’t care. 

Let me hasten to add that there are Yeshivos that do care. And when they discover such people, they expel them. But some don’t. The boys that are expelled just find another yeshiva and register there. And they stay registered.

Why don’t those Yeshivos care? Well, here is one possible reason. Yeshivos are given a fixed government stipend from the Religious Ministry for every student they have registered. So there is not much incentive to seek out the ‘cheaters’. 

Which to my mind should separate the ethical Yeshivos from the non ethical ones. If I were the religious ministry and I found Yeshivos allowing their numbers to be padded - I’d remove all stipends. Because that is nothing but pure fraud. How many are there like that? I don’t know but the 4000 students that lost their deferment were probably not all from just one Yeshiva. 

Dodging the draft is not the exclusive province of the Charedi world. There are plenty of non Charedi – and even secular draft dodgers. But when those who are supposed to exemplify the ethics of the Torah do it, that is a Chilul Hashem – as it for the Yeshivos to allow it in order to pad their finances.

Which brings me back to my oft stated support for drafting Charedim into the army. In my view all Charedi students ought to be subject to the same draft laws – and exemptions that every other Israeli is subject to. My reasons for that are very basic.  Chiloni and Dati  blood should not be seen as cheaper than Charedi blood. No individual segment of Israeli society should be exempted from the possibility of a mother mourning the loss of a child who died protecting his country. The same sacrifice should be required by all.

That said, there are times when portions of any segment should be exempted. As it applies to the Yeshiva world, I would exempt the elite among them that have the potential to become leaders in the Torah world. Or at least limit the exemptions to those those that are truly studying Torah the way they are supposed to. Which I believe would mean a lot more than 4000 would lose their exemptions.

Charedim would certainly boycott any such suggestion… as they have in the past. They have in fact succeeded in overturning legislation like that . Which virtually reverts them all to their status of being fully exempt from the draft.

But as we now see, the government is not going to be so easily fooled. That is a good thing. How the Charedi leadership will react to the current crop of those whose exemptions were revoked is yet to be seen. My hope is that their reaction will be the same as Rav Shach. That if you don’t learn – off to the IDF you go! And that they will not fight it.

The fact is that Charedi participation in the IDF has been steadily increasing. Ether by those Charedim who have been honest about whether they belong in a Beis Hamedrash full time, or Charedi dropouts who want to do something with their lives and not just hangout!

Now those numbers are increasing and these Charedim will find a home. One that will accommodate Charedi sensibilities. The programs that have been created for them seem to be working – despite the few reports where there have been abuses.  

There seems to be a critical mass of Charedim now serving in the military. With that fact in place, I don’t see how any Yeshiva that has even the slightest claim to be ethical would object. I believe that there will be a lot more than 4000 Charedi draft dodgers found in the future… without a peep from their leaders.