Shall Your Brethren Go to War While You Sit Here?

The battle for 'sharing the burden equally' is waged between those embodying the silver platter on which the Jewish state is handed and the shirkers who take it for granted.

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Capt. Tal Nachman made a mistake. The young soldier, 21 years old, who was shot at the beginning of the week on the border with the Gaza Strip, could have remained alive today if instead of enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces he had chosen to evade the draft and found sanctuary in the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak.

That is the entire story: Tal Nachman against MK Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism. The two of them are the essence of the bitter dispute between the nonreligious and Haredi sectors. One is the silver platter on which the Jewish state was given, and the other is a shirker and big talker who is also in contempt of the Supreme Court. The battle between them is not over budgets and money. It is over life itself. Gafni does not object to drafting Haredim to the IDF because of “kashrut” considerations or for “learning Torah.” These can be solved. His objection stems from a much more down-to-earth reason. He simply does not want his sons, grandsons and those of his community to be hurt on the Gaza or Lebanese borders. What Moshe Rabbenu said about the tribes of Gad and Reuben does not interest him: “Shall your brethren go to the war, while you sit here?” And not the words of the Mishna on the requirement to participate in a war of mitzvah: “Everyone goes out including the bridegroom from his room and a bride from under the wedding canopy.”

Gafni wants his sons to continue to spend their time at the city of refuge called the yeshiva, and for the nonreligious donkeys to continue risking their lives for them. He was sent to the Knesset for that exact goal: To guarantee that no military funeral will leave from Bnei Brak or Mea She’arim. The Haredi mothers and fathers have gotten used to sleeping peacefully at night, while Capt. Nachman defends them along the border.

On the very same day that Nachman’s funeral was held, the High Court of Justice ruled that state payments to yeshiva students who did not enlist must be stopped. The High Court was not willing to accept the dual absurdity: They do not serve, and they receive money from the state. But the issue, as I have said, is not money. Hitting them in their wallets will not convince the Haredim to enlist in the army. It will only lead them to reinforce their efforts to beg for money outside of Israel. Therefore, the proposal from Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked of Habayit Hayehudi to impose financial sanctions on Haredi draft evaders - and not criminal sanctions - will not lead anyone to enlist. In this fight, Yair Lapid and Jacob Perry of Yesh Atid are right. They are demanding criminal sanctions, in other words to send every Haredi who continues to evade the draft to jail.

The problem is that even if criminal sanctions are imposed, there will still be a great distance between the law being formulated now and “sharing the burden equally.” The law will not offer any equality, or anything else. It proposes to give Haredim four years of a “transition period” without a requirement to enlist. After that they can postpone their enlistment until age 21 or 24, while at any point they can choose to decide between military service and civilian national service. This is not “sharing the burden equally,” it is enshrining the discrimination in law.

The draft age was set at 18 for a good reason. This is the age at which you finish studies, but are still not building a family and have not yet made financial obligations. This is the age when the young man (including Haredim) is ready to take risks. In comparison, at age 21 or 24 the young Haredi man is already married, with children, stuck deep in problems of making a living and the last thing he wants then is to enlist in the IDF.

It is not clear how it is possible to speak about “sharing the burden” when the law allows Haredim to convert their three years of army service into civilian national service. What type of equality is there between someone who is forced to endanger his life for three years in a combat unit, and someone who spends a few hours a day in “community service” that will in the end be service in a yeshiva? And if civilian service is such a fine, socially beneficial thing (and it is not), then why should it be available just to Haredim? Give this option to everyone, also to the nonreligious. What’s wrong, their blood is less red?

So instead of a special law for Haredim, which will be complicated and hard to implement, we simply need to apply it to everyone - Haredim, religious and nonreligious - equally. To draft everyone at 18 without quotas and tricks. This is the only way we can reach a true state of “sharing the burden equally.” Any other solution is distorted, unjust and doomed to fail. Capt. Tal Nachman, the silver platter, knew that very well.

Ultra-Orthodox youths protest in Jerusalem, February 6, 2014.Credit: Moti Milrod
Haredi soldier at an IDF recruitment base.Credit: Moti Milrod

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