Sunday, March 16, 2014

Israel's Haredi Draft Law

It's Not About The Torah

Israel's Parliament passed legislation on Wednesday that paves the way for the military conscription of the country's Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) male population. Immediately following the vote, Haredi politicians and rabbis in Israel and the United States denounced the new law as being "designed to severely limit the growth of Torah in the Holy Land.”
They accused the Israeli government of making a point of stripping ultra-Orthodox Jews of their freedom to study Torah and lead an observant Jewish lifestyle. Moshe Gafni, a member of Parliament from the Haredi Degel HaTorah party, even went so far to say, "The state of Israel has lost the right to call itself a Jewish and democratic state."

Please. Don't let these bearded, pious-looking men fool you. This law is not about the freedom to learn Torah. Learning Torah is still very much encouraged for people who are inclined to do so.
This law is about alleviating the burden shared by the rest of Israeli Jewish society, both religious and secular, to serve in the country's military. Israel has very real security concerns and the Haredi population is genuinely needed.

Before I get trolled by someone who says I hate Haredim, I'd just like to point out that many Haredi people have been huge positive influencers in my life, including this rabbi on the left. 

Currently, every Jewish Israeli man and woman is obligated to serve in the country's military or to perform national service. Except the ultra-Orthodox. Having ultra-Orthodox men (at least) serve will help alleviate the burden shared by the rest of society and make the state of Israel a freer place for all its citizens.

Haredim respond that the Torah learning and prayers of their followers are doing just as much to keep the country safe as those serving in the military. This perspective is first and foremost extremely condescending to the men and women who put their lives on the line. Secondly, there are numerous references in the Torah as well as the Talmud that obligate Jewish men to physically take up arms in order to keep the people of Israel safe from harm.  

Haredi rabbis and politicians are arousing panic over this new law and Israeli society's refusal tolerate their lack of conscription because they are afraid of losing the absolute power and influence they hold over Israel's fastest growing demographic, which now makes up 10% of Israel's population.

Through a combination of political wheeling and dealing over the past few decades, Haredi leaders have managed to build a completely insular society that makes it extremely difficult for people to exercise outside thought or leave.

Most Haredi schools fail to teach secular subjects such as mathematics and English after primary school, leaving Haredim unable to compete in the professional job market later on. Haredim are pressured to marry extremely young and to have large families. When Haredi men reach draft age, they remain in their yeshiva (Jewish study) framework full time and are encouraged to stay there indefinitely rather than work. Today less than 40% of Haredi men have employment of any kind.
The result of this system is that most Haredi families are poverty-stricken and live off government welfare and are entirely dependent on the good graces of their community leaders. 

Without a basic secular education, formal job training, history of military service, non-Haredi personal connections, and with a large family in tow, most Haredim have no choice but to remain in the sub-society to which they were born.

If Haredi men serve in the military, they will be one step closer to getting an education, full-time employment, and, of course, regular interaction with non-Haredi people. The Haredi belief system and lifestyle will be on full display in the marketplace of ideas and Haredi people will be free to choose what and why they believe.

The Israeli government putting priority on Haredi male military conscription is simply one step towards getting Haredim into the workforce and enabling them to fend for themselves, so that the nation's taxpayers (like me) don't have to. It sets forward priorities to ensure that Israel will remain a truly free liberal society where people are able to believe and disbelieve what they choose. It is important to note that the political party that sponsored the legislation, the Jewish Home party, is a religious party.

The Haredi population's fast growth means that if the situation is not rectified in the coming years, it will take a serious toll on Israel's defense capabilities and economy.

The study of Torah and the embrace of Jewish values is core to Israel's identity. However, it is crucial to not give in when Haredi politicians and demagogues manipulate their meaning to serve their own ends. 

Israel's new draft law is an important step towards equality in Israeli society and the advancement of Haredi and non-Haredi people alike.

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