Sunday, June 16, 2013


The Akiva Plan for Israel

by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths

kotel-soldierCommentor Adam Goldberg wrote, in response to Reform Goes After Orthodox in Israel, “in your opinion, what would be a positive way to create positive change within Israeli society?”

Normally I would hesitate to speak up, for the wise know when to stay silent.  Yet when the political leadership is throwing things at the wall like cooked pasta (to see what sticks and not considering the impact), my analysis might even be considered wise.

The Akiva Plan

(for making adjustments to Israeli society to better economically integrate and accommodate the growing ultra-orthodox minority to strengthen Israel’s future)

1. Immediately revoke the law making it illegal for people receiving a religious exemption from army service to work until age 31. - - - reasoning: this law was originally to provide a negative impact of avoiding army service, to push religious people to service.  It didn’t work at all in the ultra-orthodox sector.  Now the economists are complaining that the ultra-orthodox are under-performing economically and living poor (which further absorbs social service resources) while giving them a 10 year handicap they can’t overcome.  The only reason to maintain this law now is punitive, “let’s punish them for not acting the way we want”.  Yet given the economic and social service impact, it’s hurting all of Israel.  Further, there are ultra-orthodox students who travel abroad to study, and avoid returning to Israel until age 31 (or avoid returning at all).

2. Accredit Israeli religious high schools, yeshivot, kollels and seminaries to give recognized degrees – just like in the U.S. and UK.  - - - reasoning: Outside of Israel everyone recognizes the studies and training to get rabbinic ordination is equivalent to a college level degree.  Jewish religious students receive 12 to 18 years of intense education.  In the U.S., UK and Australia Jewish orthodox religious institutions have been fully accredited by secular authorities to grant high school diplomas as well as college level bachelor of arts degrees in Judaic Studies.  The craziness of this point is that American students coming to study in the Israeli branch of an American yeshiva will get degree credit, but an Israeli student at the same institution will not.  Why does this matter?  Ultra-orthodox students in the US finish with normal, accepted credentials.  Ultra-orthodox students in Israel do not – and by secular standards are not considered to have even completed high school (even with 18 years of study and rabbinic ordination).  This means they can’t apply for any civil service job, police career, fire career, government career, etc, without first going through years of remedial training to pass secular studies tests.  Few do so, and therefore few of the ultra-orthodox are found in government or civil service (which further alienates the community, finding no faces from their community in government offices).

3. Immediately expand the IDF Shachar program by a factor of 4 or more.  - - - reasoning: The IDF Shachar program provides an opportunity that trains ultra-orthodox members in high-level long-training set skills, with high after-service value.  The IDF benefits from people making a longer commitment and having a focus level (from religious studies) appropriate to the type of training, the people benefit from gaining high-level skills without requiring the secular degrees to enter these fields.  They exit with experience and skills with high economic potential.  Everyone gains, and there are members of the ultra-orthodox community vying to get in, considering it job training in an appropriate environment with great future economic value.

4. Partner with Yeshivot in creating Infantry Units, with the Yeshiva providing the non-military religious services for the unit. - - - reasoning: while the general feedback from the ultra-religious is they don’t want to do army service due to environment and reduced Torah learning, there’s an unspoken sub-message.  Even if the environment covers all the ultra-religious concerns, the young people are taken out of their community and yeshiva environment into one run by the secular.  This concern of taking the young people away can be offset by partnering with the yeshiva’s to provide the ultra-religious services parts of the army program.  For example, a “Mir Infantry Unit” could be formed where the students go in together, the on-base synagogue is operated by a rabbi from the yeshiva, the morning prayer preparations and evening learning opportunities are provided by Mir yeshiva personnel, and the kosher food supervision provided by Mir personnel.  This is similar to the orthodox Hesder yeshiva programs, keeping the group together as a community with older members part of their program to provide the ongoing cohesiveness.  But further, pay the yeshiva personnel that provide this service.

5. Accept Alternate Credentials for Civil Service & Government Hiring.  - - - reasoning: Many government offices in Israel are filled with unhelpful clerks who can minimally perform their tasks.  Clearly their secular credential hiring standards are not bringing them success, but are preventing the ultra-orthodox from benefiting from these economic opportunities AND are preventing the ultra-orthodox customers from seeing clerks from their communities who can relate to their problems.  Operating a computer to check whether a person is eligible for a benefit or can have a fee canceled is no harder for someone with rabbinic ordination than for someone with a general Israeli secular graduation test certification.  Get economic opportunities and work patterns working in the ultra-orthodox community. 

6. Support Yeshivot who Partner or have a 50% induction rate. - - - reasoning: Incent (provide incentives) to yeshiva’s who partner with infantry units or have a good induction rate.  The incentive is increasing the government support of their operations and increasing the rate of support, doubling or tripling the rate of support, for the top students who stay and learn.  Meaning, send your lower students into your yeshiva supported army program and get your top students a living wage (at no increased cost).  You could even see yeshivas telling their lower level students they have to “sacrifice for Torah”, to support the students with the best potential to be Torah leaders.

7. Offer the Yeshivot the opportunity to take over base synagogues and offer Shabbatons and shiurim.  - - - reasoning: give the yeshivas a reason to cooperate with the army and feel invested in it’s success, as well as an opportunity to expose secular Israel to Torah.  A bit further, this lets the Torah community feel they have an equal opportunity to influence the army and secular society as the secular have with the ultra-orthodox who go in the army.  Even pay the yeshivas for it (reduce the army rabbinate to compensate).  This also reduces isolation and creates connections between people at all levels of society.  (Many secular from Tel Aviv have literally never had contact with an ultra-orthodox person.)

…That’s it.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Have you considered, as awful as my suggestion may seem, starting a political movement so you could become an MK there? We desperately need voices of reason in the Israeli government.

  3. I am inspired to make this comment from suggestions by Rav DovBer Leib of End of Days blog, but why not add an aopportunity that relious Talmidim who do not want to go into the army, can at least perform some sort of society service "Shirut Leumi".
    This will involve teaching Torah in schools, universities, youth clubs, old age homes, hospitals etc?
    Plus a cadre that carries out "Common Decency" Mitzvot; repairs to street signs, broken paving or street lights, cleans waste from streets, plants trees etc.
    I am aware that some have been very offended by the last part of my suggestion but it is not meant as any time of public humiliation, in fact the opposite, of making Eretz Yisrael as safe and pleasant anenvironment as possible.

  4. London,

    Unfortunately National Service programs have a surprisingly high cost. (Anyone who has managed interns quickly finds that "free" labor still requires training, management time, supervision, etc.) As one simple example, if the service is not nearby one's home, the program has to either cover the commute costs of the service-person or provide a (shared) apartment and basic living expenses.

    Currently the budget for such programs is maxed, and even was cut (my daughter was lined up for a top position this fall, and was informed of being cut last minute due to national budget priorities).

    So while there are some programs to take around 1,000 from the charedi community into national service each year, these programs operate at a net cost.

    It certainly may be possible to increase such programs and target them at points of high societal impact, maximizing value versus cost. This has not been the traditional approach.


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