Op-Ed: My Take on The Tal Law
Daniel Perez, Jewish Voice EditorThe writer was editor of the Jewish Voice of New York. His work has appeared in a variety of news outlets, including A7, Yeshiva World News and JNS. Mr. Perez is currently working as a freelance writer and consultant . He can be reached at email@example.com.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's and do not express the views of Arutz Sheva.
Those of you who follow Israeli affairs are probably aware that the Tal Law was declared unconstitutional a few months ago, and the Knesset is now scrambling to find a workable solution to the dilemma created by that law's absence.
For those of you scratching your heads right now, the gist of the matter is this: Israel has always tried to strike that delicate balance between being a fair, equitable democratic country, and a Jewish state where Jews are free to Jew all they can Jew.
Which makes sense, because if the State of Israel doesn't go out of its way to defend the right of its citizens to live a fully observant Jewish life as they define it, how is it any different from the lands of our Exile?
In any event, in effect, the Tal Law was a law that basically exempted Israeli hareidim ("ultra-Orthodox" Jews) and other full time yeshiva students, from military service, allowing them to remain in yeshiva, and receive government funding to support their families while they learn.
(Ed. note: The 2002 law continued the yeshiva students exemption subject to certain conditions. According to the law, at the age of 22, yeshiva students are provided with a decision year and can choose between one-year civil service alongside a paying job or a shortened 16-month military service and future service in the reserves as an alternative to continuing to study. Several thousand elected to do that and special units such as Nahal hareidi were created for this purpose, but the progress is not considered fast enough by those who were against the law. Others felt that only a gradual process would prevent conflict. The Supreme Court ruled the law unegalitarian in 2012)
This is doubly aggravating for Israelis who don't immerse themselves in Torah, because they see their countrymen not contributing to the nation's defense (at least not tangibly), nor to its economic welfare (i.e. they're learners, not earners), yet still living off the government dole.
The fact is that these people who dedicate themselves to Torah study full time put their hearts and souls into their learning, ultimately to the benefit of us all. But because they're not doing the actual grunt work of sustaining the Zionist enterprise, they are maligned by some as freeloaders.
I wonder, when our ancestors were slaves in Egypt, did they resent the tribe of Levi, who were exempted from the rigors of forced labor and permitted to engage in spiritual pursuits?
Let's make this simple. To my secular brothers: Disparaging the importance of Torah scholarship does nothing to further the cause of national unity. Whether or not you believe that all those students in yeshiva bring divine aegis upon the State of Israel, Torah has been our people's lifeblood, sustaining the Nation of Israel for thousands of years of exile. So maybe there's something to it.
And to my black-hatted mishpucheh [family, ed.], what I'd like to say is this: If you think that spending your entire adult life with your nose in a book is somehow doing your fair share, while your "less religious" compatriots shed blood, sweat, and tears to protect your freedom to sit and learn all day, you are sorely mistaken.
When our ancestors were slaves in Egypt, did they resent the tribe of Levi, who were exempted from the rigors of forced labor and permitted to engage in spiritual pursuits?
We should probably clarify something at this point: A large segment of Israel's orthodox Jews (including the "ultra" kind) enlist in the Israel Defense Forces, many of them serving in combat units, with distinction. So there's nothing the secular Israelis can do that the hareidi can't, though specific areas of halakha (Jewish law) preclude certain work scenarios.
But that's the balance I was talking about. The balance, in my view, shouldn't be exempting religious Jews from their share of the nation's burden, it should be seeing to it that their needs vis-à-vis kashrut, modesty, and holiday/Sabbath observance are accommodated to the greatest extent possible. In other words, they should receive the same rights they strive to defend for their fellow Jews.
Bottom line: The draft in Israel should apply to everyone, or it should apply to no one. Either Israel is supported by a volunteer military and civilian workforce, or everyone pitches in, and those hareidi who aren't already doing so, pick up their share of the tab.
For those who as a matter of personal principle cannot engage in military service, an alternative means for them to fulfill their national service requirement should be offered. But we would be remiss if we didn't point out that one of the greatest leaders in Jewish history, King David himself, was not simply a pious monarch. He was a statesman, yes, and a Torah scholar, and a poet, and a warrior; an army general on the front lines fighting for his people, ready to lead by example and even lay down his life for his people if it ever came to that.
Is there any nobler example a Jew could aspire to than that?