Thursday, March 13, 2014


On the New Draft Law in Israel

(Mystical Paths – Reb Akiva)

A link to a full copy of the law at the end of this article.

Question: Someone told me that with the new draft law, Matmidim (people who learn Torah full time) will NOT be thrown in prison for not serving (for taking a religious exemption from the Israeli army draft) as long as a certain percentage of Chareidim (ultra orthodox Jews) go to the Army?

Answer: Right.  And the current number of serving charedim in Nachal Charedi and Shachar ultra-orthodox units (infantry, intelligence and air force technical service units) plus those to be counted as serving-via-national-service programs which will now include Zaka (a charedi run disaster and terror body victims remains identifcation and care organization), Igud Hatzala (volunteer ambulance service) and Chabad Shlichus (assisting in running certain Chabad houses that service primarily an Israeli clientele) already meet the numbers.

Question: So why the angry faces?  The law is just to make sure that those who don't learn full time join the mainstream, right?  The Czar will not be barging into the homes of Matmidim arresting them for non-service, so it seems.

Answer: Points…

(1) The idea of forced army service brings forth too many historical stories of Jewish children torn from their families and way of life, few of which survived.  See for example the history of the Cantonists (see Cantonism and Ethnic Minorities in this Wikipedia article), children stolen by the Russian government for 25 years of service (few returned alive, those that did were culturally destroyed).  Even regular Jews taken into foreign armies were often used for cannon fodder by their units, and at much risk from their comrades as from the enemy.  Among the ultra-orthodox Jews, horror stories of the struggles of the few that survived such situations 4 to 8 generations ago have been passed down through families and communities.  We “live” with these cultural stories from the time of childhood.

(2) Everyone in the religious world is shocked at the idea that Israel, a country of Jews, would write ANY sort of law that would criminalize “learning Torah”.  That’s NOT what the new draft law does, but it can easily be spun that way.  It’s always easier to spin the simple explanation.

(3) The response is for public consumption (consumption by the charedi public).  Those in power and influence have to be seen to be "fighting the change".  Standing strong against change, changes that affect the culture of the community, is a foundational point of charedi life.

(4) Industry and Trade Minister Bennett told a story on charedi radio in Israel last night.  He said a group of charedi Members of the Knesset and Askanim (community organizers) came to him and asked him to change the law…

--- Starting next month the new law frees anyone who who received a draft exemption for religious reasons and is 22 years old or older, frees them to enter the workforce (or occupational or university education) IF THEY WANT.  If they want to continue learning Torah full time, they are equally free to do so for as long as they wish (or their life circumstances allow).

--- PREVIOUSLY it was ILLEGAL for anyone who received a religious exemption TO WORK or LEARN AT A SECULAR INSTITUTION before age 31.  If they did, they were to be instantly hauled off to the army for 3 years of service – or sent to prison.

-- The group came and asked him TO CHANGE THE AGE WHEN CHAREDIM ARE FREE TO WORK or learn an occupation TO 26 (from 22).  In other words, they are more afraid that their constituency will enter the workforce and earn decent salaries than they are that they will do 2 active years of army.

-- Minister Bennett's contribution to the new law (the release of anyone 22 or older today and the creation of occupational training as part of their army service in the future – and the release of anyone who receives a religious exemption to work after age 22 in the future) are a GREATER risk to Israeli charedi society that Finance Minister Yair Lapid's “criminal sanctions against those who refuse army service IF not enough charedim do service”.  BUT THEY CAN'T ORGANIZE A PROTEST AGAINST "freeing people to work".

(5) In the long run, this may be a tremendous communal benefit for the charedi community.  IF they have more economic activity, reducing and then eliminating the need for government support – they will be able to tell the government to STUFF IT when they want to push upon them ideas that conflict with their culture.  The primary government leverage is financial.  Remove it and it becomes possible to speak to the majority as equals.  As a dependent minority, the majority feels they can just push them around.

Here’s a link to the law, I think this is the final version voted upon.  RTF word processing format – in Hebrew.


  1. I should also point out the obvious. There are cynical Leftists like Herzog and Peres who love the Chareidi dependent way of life to ally with them for money, of course, in order to destroy yishuvim in Yesha. This dependency allowed for the destruction of Jewish Gaza to take place. And now we reap the "rewards" of that tomfoolery.

  2. Excellent job! Great clarification!

  3. A good post, and less infuriating than many I've read on the subject.

    Re: point (1)
    The idea of forced army service brings forth too many historical stories of Jewish children torn from their families and way of life, few of which survived.

    OK... but the non-Charedi Jews already face the draft. They do their duty. Why should the Charedi enjoy a _blanket_ exemption?

    Re: point (5)

    There are limits to the ability of any citizens of a democracy to tell their government to STUFF IT. At some point the government can and will overrule.

    Consider the limitations that the Charedi in the US have in dealing with the US federal/state/local government. I would expect in a healthy democracy that these same limits would apply in Israel, approximately.

  4. Hi Dan,

    On point 1, I'm explaining one factor in the communal response. Regardless of the need, the current situation has 4 generations of history. Do you expect the community to embrace a change being forced upon them from an administration (of the moment - Israeli administrations averaging 2 1/2 years) in which they have no representation given this background? Regardless of whether it should be done, there are a lot of possibilities around how versus this demanding way.

    Regarding point 5, in the US religious education is recognized, and in most cases accredited. In Israeli it is specifically NOT. The majority feels it can, and it does, push around the minority because "we pay for them". In the majority of cases, the laws are tied to the funding of programs. Remove the funding influence and it removes much of the regime-of-the-moment's leverage.

    I'm not talking about basic operational laws. It's more about institutional funding. In the US the charedi schools, for example, have to deal with health and safety standards - that's fine. But they don't have to deal with being required to inject philosophical courses or lose funding.


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