Opinion

You Wanted the ultra-Orthodox to Serve in the Army?

We don't want them in the army in order to share the burden, we want them in the army so they can waste three years of their lives as well

Illustration of Israeli soldiers ranging from secular to ultra-Orthodox.
Eran Wolkowski

You wanted them in the army, right? To “share the burden” and all. You wanted it, but you didn’t think they’d turn their backs on a female skydiving instructor or walk out of the room when women sing. You (over 80 percent, polls say) wanted them in the army. The army was less enthusiastic, but who could say no to sharing the burden?

You wanted them in the army because it was the only thing Yair Lapid was selling peddling and no one had the guts to tell him to let it go, the army will manage without them. Or maybe you thought the army would make them less Haredi, with politicians open to compromise.

The thing is, that’s impossible. Haredim can’t be “almost,” can’t “meet in the middle.” Haredim are Haredim to the end. When they become secular no one cares about them anymore. When they turned their backs on their instructor you jumped, but not when, during Shabbat, the army fed you cold food, didn’t let you listen to music and punished the cook who cooked for you.

You swallowed that in silence, and when your children were sworn in at the Western Wall. Yes, the Kotel you haven’t been to since your high-school field trip. Fine, you said, we’ve adjusted. We’ve adjusted to the state becoming more religious, to the Orthodox becoming more Haredi, to the army becoming more Haredi. But when Haredi soldiers turned their backs on the instructor, you jumped. Why? You wanted them in the army, right?

You wanted them in the army; the rabbis didn’t. They can do without equality, but not without money. The budget for yeshivas doubled since the early 2000s, to 1.2 billion shekels ($325 million) a year. The number of yeshiva students supported by the state depends on who’s reporting. The Haredim overstate the numbers, the nonreligious understate them. Either way, the Education Ministry spends more on each Haredi pupil than on secular pupils, so who needs equality?

In a country where equality has become a joke, the demand that the Haredim “be like everyone else” is unrealistic and hypocritical. There is no equality, nor can there be. There can be no equality between those who claim their contribution to society is their very existence, and those whose contribution is measured in taxes and military service. What do we compare to what? The benefit to society? The quality of studies? The tax rate?

When there is no equality, there’s a deal. The deal is simple: Give money and get support. It doesn’t matter for what, just tell us. You want support for the nation-state law? You’ve got it. You want to eliminate the High Court of Justice? Be patient, that’s coming. There’s no deliberation here. They couldn’t care less about the nation-state law; they’re on the outside anyway. From their perspective, take the law and shove it where you please.

The question is not whether support comes at a price, the question is at what price. The pricing method is as follows: more yeshiva students, more money. That’s why they reject the conscription law, and why they delay it from year to year, from government to government. When the elderly Yair Lapid hobbling along in his walker asks his Filipina where the issue of sharing the burden stands, she’ll tell him it’s fine, we got a delay, we set up a committee.

Military service was once a ticket into Israeli society. Not always to the first row, sometimes closer to the bathrooms. The Druze were there. After Israel was founded they got the “Druze Battalion,” with Druze soldiers and commanders (let’s not get carried away, the battalion commander was a Jew). Then the unit was disbanded and its soldiers dispersed. Then came the nation-state law, which returned them to their natural place — down there on the side, near the toilets.

You want Haredim in the army? Give them a place down on the side, next to the toilets. Give them a separate, hermetically sealed battalion, sealed better that the Netzah Yehuda battalion. Without female instructors and without women singing, with times for prayers and immersion in the mikveh. Call them the Glatt Kosher Battalions or the Army of God. Give them Brig. Gen. Ofer Winter, who will lead them into holy wars against those who curse the God of Israel. Separate them. Not just in the army. Even on El Al. Haredim refuse to sit next to women? Give them their own flights. Completely glatt kosher. Men and women separated. No stewardesses or obscene films. As separated as in united Jerusalem.

The truth is that it’s not because of some ridiculous sharing of the burden that we want them in the army. We want them there because we’re not suckers, that’s all. We have to waste three years of our lives? Let them waste them, too.