The dismantling of the Plesner committee is causing a widespread public firestorm. The committee was established to find a solution to the issue of enlisting yeshiva students into the Israel Defense Forces following the High Court's annulment of the Tal Law. This is one of the most loaded issues in Israeli society.
Amid all the debates and divisions on the issue, it seems that the most sensitive solution involves finding a compromise between the conflicting positions. There are those who believe the justice system should prevail at all costs and that haredim should be drafted no matter what, even if that involves imposing heavy personal financial punishments on them. They describe those who oppose their policy as "dangerous."
These people fail to see the bigger picture and the devastating consequences this policy would have. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needed to dissolve the Plesner committee out of the realization that the issue could only be resolved through a compromise acceptable to all parties. The goal is twofold: to find a place for those who devote their lives to studying Torah, while at the same time allowing those who do not to share equally and actively in bearing society's burdens.
One practical solution is to expand national service in the haredi sector. The idea is that volunteers would integrate into an environment suitable for them. Thus, the haredi community would gradually shift from being a community of learners to one of hands-on public activity. The Senior Citizens’ Ministry has been implementing this principle for the last couple of years. It runs a successful project called "Respect the Elderly," which allows haredim to volunteer in a national service framework. The volunteers spend time with senior citizens, including Holocaust survivors and new immigrants, who suffer from loneliness, creating a supportive environment for the elderly. The haredi volunteers regularly visit homes and offer legal aid, help the elderly make contacts and introduce them to social activities.
This program currently has the largest number of haredi volunteers performing national service. There are about 250 active volunteers in about 1,000 old-age homes in 12 cities around Israel, including Bnei Brak, Jerusalem, Haifa and Ashdod. In addition, there are about 110 volunteers in this program from non-Jewish sectors in 26 cities around Israel.
The success of haredi integration into national service depends on our ability to meet their unique needs and fully adjust programs to their way of life. National service volunteers will be better able to integrate into the workforce after their service. They will gain experience and training that will facilitate their job searches. The exposure to the world outside the yeshiva will act as a catalyst to professional advancement. Our ability to develop a national service mechanism tailored to the needs of the haredi public is a realizable goal. By collaborating with non-profit organizations and haredi community leaders we can create an easy and practical infrastructure.
No one is threatening the vocation of those men who devote their lives to Torah study, those for whom "Torah is their profession." Their position is secure. Torah study is the foundation of the Jewish people's existence, and these people preserve the spiritual power of the Torah. At the same time, anyone who does not choose this path can perform national service and share in society's burden. Such integration into society is possible without the need for unnecessary and cumbersome bureaucracies. We could maintain the delicate balance between haredi society and the broader Israeli public, in the spirit of the Talmudic dictum "one enjoys and the other still does not lack” (Baba Kama, 20). In other words, everyone gets their just desserts.
The writer is a Likud party Knesset member and the deputy minister for Senior Citizens’ Affairs.