Friday, February 09, 2024

The War, the World, and Charedim

Charedi inductees (TOI)
I don’t think it is antisemitism that’s driving this. Although some of it is, the massive and increasing number of protesters, European leaders, Democrats in government (including some Jewish ones) and city council resolutions demanding a cease fire in Gaza is sourced in the concern over the human suffering of ‘innocent’ Palestinians in Gaza.  Even the President whose support for Israel has been iron clad, has expressed concern over that suffering. Demanding as recently as yesterday that Israel allow more humanitarian aid get through. 

Not so surprisingly many left wing human rights organizations in Israel have joined on this bandwagon too. Hard to call their call for a cease fire antisemtic. Then there the hostages and their families. They continue pleading for a cease fire. Whatever it takes to get their loved ones back. Hard to ignore their pleas. Clearly they too are not antisemitic.

But to paraphrase UN Secretary General, António Guterres, this war did not happen in a vacuum. What has been missing for several months now is who started this war and how they started it. 

The immediate reaction by virtually the entire civilized world to the violent butchery, rape, and slaughter of Jewish, men, women, and children by Hamas on that October day - was near universal sympathy for Israel. But now just a few short months later much of the world has developed short term memory loss. It is rarely if even part of the conversation now, All talk of a cease fire is aimed at Israel’s retaliation to that horror. Which some have referred to as a genocide. 

What about the genocide by Hamas of some 1200 Jews that day… and the kidnapping of over 240 Jews? That has long been forgotten. None of the calls for a cease fire mention it.

Because of this mass amnesia the tide has long ago turned against Israel.  Pressure for a cease fire seems to have increased exponentially. 

The thing is that Israel cannot afford to do that. If they stop the war now, Hamas will have won. And will certainly live to fight another day. On the other hand Israel cannot afford to lose the support of the US. Without US military aid, Israel will run out of resources eventually.

So in addition to the conundrum of the war versus hostage crisis, this is yet another conundrum Israel faces. And I’m not sure how to balance Israel’s need to incapacitate Hamas while needing the vital support of the US in order to accomplish victory in the the face of increasing calls for a cease fire.

Making matters worse is the unexpected manpower shortage with respect to the war effort. This was reported in excruciating detail by Rabbi Natan Slfkin. Who has made an effective case blaming the manpower shortage on Israel’s Charedi population. 

This has been one of my pet peeves going as far back as I can remember. Long before the current war began. I have always found it extremely unfair that the entire Charedi community has been exempted from army service – sparing all of them the life threatening dangers of combat. 

Rabbi Slifkin notes that there are a variety of reasons why they refuse to serve in the IDF in any capacity. One of their arguments has always been that the IDF doesn’t really need them and doesn’t even want them. I don’t think that is the case anymore. Certainly not now.

He also notes that the so-called surge in the number Charedim volunteering for IDF service since October 7th was vastly exaggerated. According to Rabbi Slifkin it was hundreds, not the thousands reported by the media.

I do not understand how the conscience of the Charedi world does not recognize this shortcoming. But that is exactly the case. They do not feel the slightest bit of guilt over the fact that not a single one of them has been subjected to the fate of the over 500 IDF soldiers killed in Gaza. Not a single drop of blood has been shed by them in battle. Nor has there been a drop of guilt over that.

I know they feel they are contributing in their own way to the war effort by the increased number of prayers and the level of intensity. As well as the  longer hours of Torah study dedicated to the war effort. But as Rabbi Slifkin so aptly puts it, the sacrifice is not nearly the same.  The pool of Charedim is large enough to fill the void in manpower they now need had they been subject to the draft like the rest of the country. 

But they do not serve and continue to refuse doing so as a matter of what they believe is religious principle. Which means the rest of Israel has to pick up the slack. Which of course means more of them are being placed at increased risk while the Charedi world suffers no risk at all.

This has apparently caused increased anger against Charedim by the rest of Israel. And I can’t really blame them. No one wants to die. I get that. But when living in a country that requires everyone to pitch in and serve even if it means risking their lives, it is unconscionable to me that an entire large segment of Israel should get out from under that burden. That they do not see it that way doesn’t mean they are right.

As Rabbi Slifkin says: ‘The rift between Charedim and the rest of Israel grows even worse’.  I don’t see any great solutions to any of this and it depresses me.