Drafting ultra-Orthodox Jews Into the Israeli Army Is Dangerous

The stronger the religious faith, the more dangerous its access to military force. We must not help the Israel Defense Forces become like Hezbollah

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A basic training graduation ceremony held for troops from the Haredi Nahal battalion at Masada in 2012.
A basic training graduation ceremony held for troops from the Haredi Nahal battalion at Masada in 2012.Credit: Alex Levac
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann

Only someone who thinks the combination of religion and military isn’t dangerous can support enlisting Haredim. And anyone who thinks the combination is not dangerous should take a look out the window at the Middle East. And anyone who thinks “it won’t happen to us” should remember the “holy war” dispatch distributed by Givati Brigade Commander Ofer Winter – “commander of the Jewish Jihad Brigade,” as Uri Misgav so aptly put it – to his soldiers at the outset of Operation Protective Edge.

In his dispatch, Winter declared a religious war on the Gazan enemy “which is cursing and blaspheming” the “God of Israel.”

Those who understand the danger of the religion-and-army mixture must object to forcibly drafting ultra-Orthodox men. What’s more, they must already be afraid of religious Zionism’s increasing dominance in the IDF. The problem isn’t the ultra-Orthodox or the religious, but the combination of religious belief with military force. The stronger the belief, the more dangerous its access to military force.

Sometimes it’s easier to understand with examples. Radical Islam is a good case in point. So are Baruch Goldstein and the Jewish terrorists who planned to blow up the Dome of the Rock mosque. So is Yigal Amir. The danger isn’t that the ultra-Orthodox, or the religious soldiers in general, will influence the army, no more than that the IDF will influence them. The fusion of religion and army is dangerous to both religion and the army.

These are two mutually exclusive hierarchical systems, and in cases of collision it isn’t clear whose order/command is to be obeyed. Unless one system subordinates itself to the other – but religion, as a hierarchical system headed by God, cannot, in principle, truly subordinate itself to the military system. So they must not be mixed. We must not help the IDF become like Hezbollah.

The only explanation for Yair Lapid’s leading the campaign for equal sharing of the burden is that he doesn’t understand what faith is. The practices he has adopted (a yarmulke, going to the Western Wall, separating the challah, etc.) to get closer to a constituency that recoils from his hatred for religious people shows how hollow his grasp of religious faith is. He really thinks religious belief is summed up in taking on a few texts, commandments and clothes. It’s not his fault; his understanding is limited because he really is faithless. He isn’t capable of understanding it. Just as Rogel Alpher doesn’t understand, and therefore often scoffs at religious people and religious belief, “proving” rationally in his essays that there is no God. Hasn’t rationality taught him that faith is an irrational sentiment?

Lapid, Alpher and their followers, the foolish and the intelligent, despise religious belief. Never mind that they don’t understand that most of humanity, for most of history, believed and still believes – that is, that they belong to a tiny minority of humanity, so their contempt is out of place. The danger is that they lack the basic tools to understand the power of faith. Alpher is only describing his own limitation. He doesn’t “see” God, and so he declares that God is imaginary. It’s like someone who doesn’t understand mathematics, so he declares that it’s false.

My intention isn’t to preach faith, but to warn against disparaging its energy, which has led Lapid, in typical rational arrogance, to think it can be melted down without dangerous repercussions. Again, the danger isn’t the spread of religious faith, but that it will catch fire by touching the army’s flame.

Lapid’s lack of understanding has made him easy prey for Naftali Bennett. The leader of Habayit Hayehudi is using the term “equality” as bait for liberals, so that they’ll help him draft soldiers, secular and Haredi. They will be cast in the religious Zionist mold in the melting pot of the IDF, which Bennett’s dangerous movement is taking over.

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