Well – probably not!
Despite the High Court majority ruling last week that the “Tal law“ (allowing permanent exemption from army service for Haredim) was unconstitutional and could not be extended, there will not be a sudden influx of draftees, tzitzits swinging in the wind, being inducted into the IDF anytime soon. Or ever!
So the prospect of an army of a Jewish “Party of God“ confronting an army of an Islamic “Party of God” is not going to happen. Which is probably just as well.
The irony of the two protagonists fighting each other, whilst claiming the support of the same God (just approached from different directions) would be laughable if it were not so tragic. Mind you, in the years that Iraq fought Iran, each side screamed “Allahu Akbar” as they slaughtered the other. And even the Irish managed a considerable number of horrific murders in the name of a Catholic God in their conflict with the forces of the Protestant God, and vice-versa. In the sphere of death and murder committed in His name, God has a lot to answer for!
Anyway, I, for one, am not excited at the prospect of one group of heavily armed religious fanatics taking on another army of equally heavily armed religious lunatics. You can decide which description is most appropriate to each side.
It has suddenly become necessary, and urgent, to decide what to do with the thousands of Torah students who are convinced that their efforts in defence of the Jewish People are equal to, or are of even greater value, than the soldiers of the IDF.
Of course, studying Torah and Talmud for hours and arguing about the true meaning and interpretation of every sentence, phrase or word, whilst cooped up in stuffy classrooms, is really death defying work. Especially when compared with the risk free activities of your average combat soldier. Risking life and limb in the service of God, has a totally different meaning in the Beit Midrash. Students could suffer a wound from contact with the edge of a page and end up with a serious “paper cut.” Maybe a heavy book could fall on their foot. Perhaps, even, a serious case of hemorrhoids caused by too much sitting.
Anyway, nothing is going to cause them to exchange this dangerous way of life for the comparative luxury and comfort of a 3 year stint in the IDF.
Today, the citizens of Israel are asking: “how did we ever get into this situation?” The standard explanation is that it’s due to a mistaken decision of David Ben-Gurion during the period of the formation of the state. In an effort to include a religious element in the governmental structure, he acceded to the demands of the Agudat Israel party on a number of issues.
Although an Atheist himself, he was acutely aware of the need for some form of Jewish symbolism in the nascent state. He also understood that Jewish religious life in Europe, and especially in Poland, had been virtually destroyed in the last years of the World War. So, amongst other things, he agreed that the Shabbat would be the designated day of rest; that only Kosher food would be available in state institutions, and that all matters of civil personal law (birth, marriage, divorce and death) would be under the sole control of the Jewish Religious Court system, The Rabbinate.
In addition,he accepted that a small handful of students – around 400 – would be permitted to study Torah on a full time basis, and would be permanently excused from army service.
He never assumed, not in his wildest nightmares, that some 60 years later, these decisions would lead to the largest controversy in the history of the state. Far from unifying the population, the effects of that agreement is today responsible the biggest split that Israeli society has ever known.
But, to be absolutely fair to Ben-Gurion, the so called “status quo” arrangements that he had negotiated with the religious parties, did not change significantly until Menahem Begin became Prime Minister in 1977. Begin developed different political alliances, which resulted, eventually, in the religious bloc having more power. And they took advantage of this situation with a vengeance!
Due to the vagaries of the Israeli electoral system, the religious, and, especially, the Ultra-Orthodox parties were able to extend their influence in successive governments and this has brought us to the situation we are in today. Apart from the multitude of other contentious religious issues, the question of exemption from army service strikes a raw nerve for most Israelis. Actually, this feeling also applies to exemptions for non- religious; but the religious are more high profile. And there are, currently, over 60,000 students, learning Torah, who could have been in the army. This number is increasing at a rate of around 10,000 a year.
On the other hand, there are those that argue: “what is the army going to do with thousands of Haredim? Currently there are less than 1200 of them in the IDF. They usually work in non combat situations, and there is no complaint about their work ethic. The problems are connected to things like dietary requirements, relationship to female soldiers, working on Shabbat, etc.
A huge number soldiers from, what is called, a “National Religious” background serve in the army, and always have. Their religious demands are on a considerably more accommodating level, and they are heavily represented in the officer corps.
The IDF has always been touted as a unifying force for Israeli society. It brings together youth from every possible ethnic and social background and tries to mould them into a cohesive entity. Historically, it has more than succeeded in this ideal, and the backbone of Israel today was formed in the IDF.
The fear is that, if Haredim in great numbers are conscripted, then their demands will create separation, not unification, in a force that has always prided itself on its values of equality.
I don’t think that it is beyond the ingenuity of the IDF to come up with some formula. But it is difficult for them when confronted with the Rabbis who defend the exemption system, and threaten that, under no circumstances, will they allow “God’s soldiers” (they mean the students) to exchange their Black and White uniforms for army Khaki.
At this time of writing, no obvious solution presents itself. Doubtless, there will be the usual political skullduggery, and a deal will be struck. There will be no substantial change to the present system. The soldiers of the IDF will continue to fight and die for their country. The Torah students will continue to bewilder each other with obscure interpretations of some Rabbi’s opinion about the real meaning of a phrase.
And God will breathe a sigh of relief that his messengers will live to fight another day.
In their way!
Andyboy – Telling it as it is
Torah (Photo credit: quinet)http://www.flickr.com/photos/91994044@N00/4187935631
- Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory (andyboy1.com)
- Rabbi Ovadia Yosef – from his mouth to God’s ears! (andyboy1.com)