My beloved brethren, do not rejoice and celebrate on this day. The High Court of Justice, citing the noble principle of shouldering the burden equally, has in effect decided that haredi [ultra-Orthodox] men must be drafted into the IDF, thus severing them from the world of Torah. The prophet Jeremiah asked “Wherefore is the land perished?” and answered, “Because they have forsaken my Torah.”
Press headlines have all waxed lyrical on the significance of the ruling. You would think that by next week recruitment centers will see long lines extending from Tel Hashomer [one of the main recruitment centers] to Bnei Barak [a predominantly Haredi city]. Knesset members broke into spontaneous celebrations as if a haredi elite unit had managed to capture Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah overnight.
By the rivers of Babylon, in the Moroccan desert, in Yemenite villages, in the cities of Poland and Lithuania and in the Caucasus Mountains, Jews throughout the ages have died in the name of Torah study. They understood that our nation would be nothing without Torah. In every generation and every place on earth, nations rose to destroy us, and the Torah saved us.
By virtue of Torah study we are still here, when all of the earth’s empires have disappeared. Jewish existence does not stand a chance without the world of Torah. All the alternatives offered to Jews have proven hollow and vain. Torah study is the Jewish people’s insurance policy, The premium gets more expensive as the threat grows to the Jewish way of life.
Those men and women who are willing to live a life of poverty and material want for the sake of the supreme value of Torah study, have been not lauded, but rather showered with contempt by their fellow Israelis. Haredi-bashing has become a national sport, particularly in recent months as sharp-tongued politicians have caught a whiff of early elections. As a retired IDF Armored Corps officer and a disabled veteran of the Yom Kippur War, I find it very hard to accept that a large segment of Israeli society does not serve in the military, whether they be haredim or secular Israelis.
Israel’s wars have always been wars of duty; defending Israeli citizens between those wars qualifies as Pikuach Nefesh in the truest sense of the term (referring to a Jewish concept that allows a violation of certain religious rules to save someone’s life).
Serving in the IDF is a right I cherish; a right that our forefathers were denied throughout their years in the Diaspora. A reality in which every Jew can hold a weapon and defend himself, his family and his state is tantamount to living in Messianic times. But what can we do if not everyone chooses to exercise this right?
Every Israeli in their right mind knows that we can’t exercise physical, political or economic coercion to force haredim to serve in the army. The right to serve in the IDF cannot be imposed on someone who doesn’t wish to serve, especially if they are motivated by religious belief. I find it hard to envision thousands of police officers carrying handcuffs around Jerusalem and Bnei Brak in the hope of catching draft dodgers. Allow me to also cast doubt on the notion that military, treasury and National Insurance officials are even interested in an influx of thousands of haredim into the IDF.
Israel’s haredi community has undergone a real transformation in recent years. The haredi leadership has come to grips with the fact that tens of thousands of families cannot be sustained through charity funds, which are gradually being depleted due to global economic hardship. The hidden hand of the economy is stronger than the Tal Law or any other law that might replace it. What is needed is patience and perseverance. If the government employs force, it will only serve to halt the processes that are already underway in haredi society, the forces leading toward greater workforce participation and service in the IDF or national service.