A donkey is given a new burden.
A donkey is given a new burden. Photo by Michal Fattal
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Netel means "burden." Like its English equivalent, it can be used to refer to different kinds of burdens, like netel hahokhakha, "the burden of proof," and netel hamas, "the tax burden."

But Israelis don’t need to invoke a qualifier or wonder what kind of encumbrance is being discussed when they talk about "sharing the burden," halukat hanetel, or the need for an "equitable burden," shivyon banetel. In these cases, netel becomes a code word of sorts for a very specific kind of load, which is carried by most Israelis (but not all, and there's the rub): the burden of military service.

When used in these contexts, the word netel evokes a world of distinctions and resentment. On one side are theutra-Orthodox Jews who claim to be protecting the country spiritually, through their government-subsidized Torah study. And on the other are the citizens who protect the country physically, with their rifles and, sometimes, with their blood.

Israelis don't need all this spelled out for them, though. With the amount of baggage netel carries, one seemingly innocuous word is more than enough.