Chabad Activity Overseas to Count as National Service for 100 Haredim a Year

Knesset committee approves decision over IDF objections.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

One hundred ultra-Orthodox men per year will be allowed to serve as Chabad emissaries overseas and have it count as national service, a special Knesset committee decided Monday.

The committee, headed by MK Ayalet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi), is preparing legislation that would require most Haredim to do either military or civilian national service. Until now, Haredi yeshiva students have been largely exempt from serving.

At yesterday’s committee session, defense officials objected to the plan to recognize Chabad emissaries as doing national service, saying it would undermine efforts to draft Haredim into the Israel Defense Forces and discriminate against non-Haredi men, since the Chabad jobs would be open only to Haredim.

“This proposal significantly undermines equality in the burden [of service] and advances neither the drafting of the Haredim nor their integration,” said Brig. Gen. Gadi Agmon, head of the IDF planning and personnel. “We have agreements from the past for drafting a significant portion of the Chabad population into the army, and this proposal is damaging. It sends the wrong message about drafting Haredim. ... This proposal distances the soldier serving on the Lebanese border from the soldier doing volunteer work in Thailand.”

After the vote, MKs Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) and Omer Bar-Lev (Labor) asked the committee to reconsider its decision.

“It’s inconceivable that in the framework of the security service law, we should send people to serve overseas,” Bar-Lev said. “The issue isn’t Chabad - the problem is that today we’re talking about Chabad and tomorrow other organizations will apply [for similar status], and then we’ll have to argue over which organization contributes to the state and which doesn’t. Therefore, we need to set a boundary. And the boundary for security service should be within the borders of the State of Israel.”

Another problem is how to supervise national service volunteers who are stationed overseas. A small number of non-Haredim already do civilian national service in overseas programs, and the Civilian National Service Administration has acknowledged that supervision over these volunteers is lax.

Bar-Lev told Haaretz he also objects to civilian national service volunteers getting almost exactly the same benefits as demobilized soldiers, including an end-of-service grant and a deposit that can be withdrawn for specified purposes such as education.

Even though some of these volunteers do “sacred work,” he said, this equivalency “legitimizes turning national service into an alternative form of military service, with equal benefits for the volunteers. ... This is unacceptable, and could lead to a problematic result that would empty the concept of ‘the people’s army’ of all content.”

Chabad emissaries and guests at the mega-banquet in New York.Credit: Meir Alfasi

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