The recent debate over the suspension of the Tal Law in Israel, the law that has exempted Haredim from military service, has brought out some disturbing trends, despite its well-meaning intentions.
Without question, there is something fishy in a supposedly equal society where some segments are required to give service to the country while other segments are not. Especially when the cost of that service might include sacrificing one’s life, it is no wonder that those who participate want the rest of the society to share the responsibility.
The problem with the protests, like so many protests in recent years, is that it has quickly moved from a protest against a faulty policy to a protest against the people that the policy affects. Rather than attacking the law that exempts Haredim from military soldier, many protesters have taken to attacking the Haredim.
The protests raise the question of what exactly bothers us about the Haredim so much. Are we bothered because they do not serve in the army? I am certainly bothered by it; I did my service and I expect the same of others. But I also suspect that this is not the only reason for the protests.
Among those that protest against the exemption of Haredim are those who protest against the Haredi way of life, hurling insults and engaging in name-calling. It is one thing to call on all Israelis to equally share the responsibility of defending our nation – that is a worthy value, and I join those making that call. But if one wants to defend the value of equality, one must also see the rest of society, including Haredim, as equals.
One of the greatest ironies of this protest is that in order for the army to successfully integrate Haredim, it will require a great deal of tolerance on the part of all involved. Will Haredim be expected to serve alongside women in pants? Conversely, will women be expected to change their dress to accommodate the modesty norms of their much more traditional co-soldiers? Will soldiers be expected to tolerate views and norms they find abhorrent?
While there will initially be many conflicts involved with integrating non-traditional populations into the military in Israel, the pay-offs will be great. Certainly from my own experience, I can say how much the army acts to integrate different populations — bringing into contact people who may never have otherwise met. Between my basic training and my mandatory service, I can count as friends immigrants from around the world, Jews who had never celebrated Passover, settlers from the Judean hills and the Jordan valley, and wealthy “children of” from Tel Aviv. I can only imagine how much more my circles would have expanded if Arabs and Haredim had been a part of my service.
I do not see my military service as a burden, but rather as a responsibility that I had to my country. As such, I do not expect others to share the burden, but instead to take an equal responsibility to protect Israel. However, even more than that, military service can indeed be a privilege. I had the privilege of being exposed to so many elements of Israeli society, and the privilege as well of introducing my background and my belief system to many people who would not have otherwise encountered it. I hope that for my sake, and for theirs, the Haredim and other groups that do not currently serve can find a place in the military to learn from others and teach about themselves.
There is a real danger when we see outside groups as a threat and seek to demonize them instead of humanize and empathize with them. Indeed, this may and likely will be a long process that constantly challenges people in the way they interact with others. However, as we enter the three-week mourning period leading up to the 9th of Av, we remember the factionalism that once nearly decimated the Jewish people. We need not strive to agree with one another or to accept one another’s customs for ourselves, but hopefully equality in service will lead us to accept one another as different, with shared goals.
Arie Hasit studies at the rabbinic seminary of the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem, with plans to become a Masorti rabbi. He works for a number of different Masorti and Conservative institutions; the opinions expressed here are his own only.
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