Draft-dodging Is Their Vocation

The army's soldiers are falling off their feet. The missions are multiplying. The army has to control all the cities of the West Bank, maintain curfews, prevent terror attacks, arrest wanted men, look for explosives labs, control rural areas, protect the roads, accompany every settler vehicle and prevent suicide bombers from reaching Israel. It's too many missions for too small a force.

The army's soldiers are falling off their feet. The missions are multiplying. The army has to control all the cities of the West Bank, maintain curfews, prevent terror attacks, arrest wanted men, look for explosives labs, control rural areas, protect the roads, accompany every settler vehicle and prevent suicide bombers from reaching Israel. It's too many missions for too small a force.

But when a proposal comes up in the Knesset that Haredi yeshiva students commit to bearing a tiny fraction of the security burden and serve two weeks a year in the Civil Guard (not the army, heaven forbid), all the Haredi MKs line up against the audacious proposal, and MK Moshe Gafni shouts, "People who study Torah serve the people of Israel no less than any other soldier!" Really? Doesn't he know the difference between "dying" in the tents of Torah and the real fear of real death? Can't he distinguish between the peaceful nights a Haredi mother can sleep while her son is in yeshiva and the nightmares of a secular mother whose son is serving in the territories? Of course he knows the difference. But in his eyes, the blood of yeshiva students is thicker than that of those who wear knitted kippot or just plain old secular people.

The IDF is very worried about the growing security burden as recruitment rates drop. The August class of incoming conscripts two weeks from now will be smaller than last year's. The main reason is because of the enormous increase in yeshivas and kollels (yeshivas for married men) in recent years. When the draft deferments were instituted for yeshiva students in the 1950s, there were 400 such students. Until 1977, there was a cap on deferments, but then-prime minister Menachem Begin canceled the cap, and ever since, the number of draft-dodgers has grown year after year. In 1994, they were 5 percent of the conscript class, and in 2001 they were 9 percent. This year they will be 10 percent. The IDF believes the numbers will only grow over the years, so the security burden on those who do serve will only increase.

Nonetheless, the Knesset is expected to pass the "Parasites Law," named for its drafter "the Tal Law." Three years ago, then-prime minister Ehud Barak set up the Tal Commission to formulate recommendations on the subject of drafting yeshiva students. The committee was given a majority of religious or Haredi members, who sought agreement from heads of yeshivas, so it was clear which way their recommendations would go.

Indeed, the commission legitimized the crime of discrimination under the cloak of handling the issue. The Tal Law will allow a yeshiva student to enjoy the best of all possible worlds. He'll get an automatic deferment until the age of 23, then get a year "to decide" during which he can work. At the end of the year, he will have to decide whether to go back to the yeshiva or serve a year of national service, after which he'll be free as a bird. The law does have the option of a truncated military service, but it obviously won't be chosen. In Haredi society, a youth who serves in the army is the worst shidukh (marriage match) imaginable.

In the secular community, there are those who say that since it's impossible to draft Haredim to the army, at least let them go to work at 23 so they don't live off the public for the rest of their lives. But those people don't know much about the Haredi way of life.

The Haredi enjoy allowances, allotments, discounts and various odd and unusual grants that enable them to live without working at all. Their years in the "Independent School System" run by Shas and Agudat Yisrael teaches them nothing - or very, very little - that will help them in the job market. They do not learn civics, literature, math, English, computers, science or geography. They know nothing of the world beyond their homes and neighborhoods. They have no chance of finding work that will earn them more than the money and discounts they get as yeshiva students.

There's no chance they'll go to work at 23. If they do, they'll lose their status in Haredi society as Torah scholars. They'll have to get up in the morning and face a strict boss, a low wage and the risk of being fired. And even if a certain percentage goes to work, the number of yeshiva students at any rate will increase because the yeshivas have become refuges for those who want to avoid the army in a legitimate and elegant way.

Justice Zvi Tal came up with a bad law, for which the entire public will pay a heavy price. It is lethal to the principle of equality. It legitimizes discrimination between blood and will only spur more among the secular to refuse the draft. It will make the number of yeshiva students grow and increase the power of the Haredi parties, while the incoming classes of conscripts to the army will shrink and the security and economic burden on secular society will increase. All of this will contribute to enmity and alienation between the secular and Haredim to the point of endangering our existence.