Op-Ed: How to Effect "Equal Sharing of the National Burden"
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedThe writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper. His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1
With regard to the demand for equal sharing of the national burden, there are two paths currently facing Israeli society.
The correct path is to address the hareidi (Ultra-Orthodox) leaders earnestly, and find a true way to integrate them properly and gradually into all parts of Israeli society as well as in sharing the security burden.
The incorrect path, which apparently is more convenient for most politicians – is to invent a new law having to do with “equal sharing of the burden”, which will be mostly declarative and handy for upcoming elections, and to temporarily silence the justified anger over the inequality.
At best, though, such a law will only perpetuate inequality; at worst, it will even strengthen it. In any case, the bad path will diminish the value of serving in the I.D.F., and turn it from a ‘people’s army’ into an army of mercenaries.
Before I explain why the incorrect path will reinforce inequality, I will address Israel’s very need for a ‘people’s army’.
Israel’s Need for a ‘People’s Army’
There are those who argue that, very soon, the State of Israel will follow in the path of Western countries, where military service is no longer compulsory for all citizens, and the army is comprised of professionals who chose to enlist for pay. Most of the recruits in these countries come from socially and economically disadvantaged populations, who hope that by means of serving in the army, they can advance their social status.
The State of Israel must maintain a large, high-quality army, composed mainly of reserve forces, which are able to contend with armies of larger nations.
However, there is a fundamental difference between these countries and Israel. Western countries are not surrounded by enemies who threaten their very existence. True, a nuclear threat does exist, and in order to counter it, Western countries invest vast resources. But these countries do not require large armies to defend their borders. Their armies are primarily used for intervention in distant countries, and for such tasks, the passing of a compulsory draft law is indeed problematic.
On the other hand, the State of Israel is surrounded by enemies threatening its very existence. Any expression of weakness immediately invites war. Therefore, the State of Israel must maintain a large, high-quality army, composed mainly of reserve forces, which are able to contend with armies of larger nations.
Shorten Compulsory Duty to Prepare Reserve Forces
An attempt should be made to shorten compulsory service in the I.D.F. to a year and a half, which would be devoted primarily to training, the goal being to prepare a large and skilled reserve force for future conflicts. To maintain its level of preparedness for war, reserve duty lasting one to two weeks a year will be required, whereas routine security tasks would be borne by soldiers recruited for prolonged, permanent service in exchange for suitable pay.
Such a program will also save a great deal of money for the Treasury of the State of Israel, because the sum of money presently paid for the salaries of reservists, and the loss of workdays for the economy, is much higher.
In any case, as long as the countries surrounding us have not beaten their swords into plowshares, the State of Israel must maintain a large ‘people’s army’. This is the only way to ensure our existence – by deterring the enemy, and reducing the dangers of a large-scale, difficult war.
The Incorrect Path: ‘Civil Service for All’
The incorrect path, which unfortunately most politicians are adopting, is to pass a law calling for military or civilian service for all citizens. Its main goal is to create a false impression of “full equality” by expanding the “Sherut Leumi” (National Service), and by means of changing its name to “Civil Service”, so that even the Arabs, kindheartedly, would agree to participate in ‘sharing the national burden’.
If the goal is to contribute in the arduous, national effort to defend the nation and the land against Israel’s enemies, ‘civil service’ makes no security contribution, whatsoever. The false impression of ‘full equality’ will not strengthen and unify the population in the face of difficult challenges, because in opposition to all the various ‘civil servants’, the soldiers will appear as even bigger suckers (the Israeli slang term is "frierim").
What will happen is that the State of Israel will begin to subsidize tens of thousands of “volunteers”. To do this, of course, they will have to create a huge apparatus of directors, deputies, clerks and secretaries, to assist all the volunteers and direct them to their various locations. Bear in mind that even for the girls presently serving in ‘National Service’, there are not enough positions and organizations interested in their service!
At the same time, an entire system to monitor and guide the “volunteers” will have to be set up, seeing as they lack training in treating hospital patients, or teaching students. As a result, this will cause only economic and social damage. Incidentally, many hareidi politicians will be ecstatic to accept such an offer, which in effect, “whitewashes” army evasion of all those yeshiva students not fit for diligent Torah study, granting official approval for them to serve in all the hareidi ‘gemachim’ (charity organizations), instead of serving in the I.D.F.
The height of folly of this law is, of course, the sending of thousands of Arab youth to serve in charitable organizations under the auspices of the mosques and the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’, to deepen their influence on Arab society. As a result of this increase in “Islamic inspiration”, the State of Israel will subsequently have to boost the number of new recruits in the army, police, and fire departments, and raise the budget of compensation for victims of terror!
Such a law will perpetuate the discrimination between those taking on the task of security, and those engaging in the “pastime” called “civil service”. It would weaken the State of Israel in terms of security, and quickly turn the I.D.F. into an army of employees, because after “civil service” becomes just as legitimate as serving in the army, there won’t be too many ‘frierim’ left, willing to volunteer to serve in the army and risk their lives to protect the nation and the land.
The Correct Way
The correct way to reach an equal sharing of the national burden is to do it moderately, step-by-step. Such an approach is capable of fully and genuinely correcting the situation.
Towards this end, the I.D.F. should be prepared to absorb thousands of strictly religious soldiers, and remove all obstacles currently facing the religious and hareidi community. In other words, the army must operate according to the principles of Jewish tradition, including enabling any Jewish soldier to maintain his halakhic lifestyle.
This should be set in law: I.D.F. commanders have the obligation to ensure the fulfillment of a soldier’s religious requirements, as customarily accepted by recognized, religious authorities.
To do this, the law requiring women to serve in the army should also be cancelled, because the mixing of men and women in the army is the main obstacle and primary justification of the hareidi community leadership for their non-enlistment. This will not weaken the army, but only strengthen it; an army should always be aimed at its true function, which is security, and nothing else. It is not a ‘melting pot’, nor a place to educate youth about assorted values.
This is the exact opposite to the Chief of Staff’s statement, who publically declared that the army should educate its soldiers about the ‘equality of the sexes’, including the “duty” to hear women sing at military events. The value of maintaining Israel’s security is important and weighty enough; there is no need to include any other values. In this matter, the adage “leave well enough alone” applies.
As far as women are concerned, my intention isn’t that they should be forced not to serve in the army, but rather, enlistment would not be compulsory. This will also put an end to the justified claim of inequality of women in the army.
At the same time, significant financial incentives for career soldiers must be created. Laws must be passed giving soldiers financial benefits, such as vocational training scholarships, increased mortgages, child benefits, and assistance in their children’s education. This will also justifiably solve the problem of Arab non-enlistment. Anyone who wishes to enlist in the I.D.F. and defend Israel from its enemies will receive all the benefits, and those who choose not to enlist, will not.
As previously mentioned, a serious attempt should be made to shorten military service, and focus it on preparing a large, high-quality reserve force. Simultaneously, the routine security duties of the career soldiers should be expanded.
Along with efforts to increase the ranks of recruits among the hareidi community, a law should be passed recognizing the special value of traditional Torah study in the sacred yeshiva’s as a national asset, maintaining the moral and spiritual existence of the Jewish nation. To this end, both the institutions and the students themselves should receive proper funding.
In addition, as long as army service cannot be shortened to a maximum of a year and a half, special programs combining yeshiva studies and military service should be formed. And as is customary in various public projects which the government deems worthwhile, in turn for every person willing to volunteer, the government contributes its share.
In other words, anyone who is willing to postpone starting his life until the age of twenty-two in order to learn Torah will have to enlist for two years instead of three. Anyone who is willing to postpone starting his life until the age of twenty-three, would have to serve a year and four months, as is presently the case in the ‘Hesder’ program.
It should be noted that, aside from fulfilling the national value of Torah study, the ‘Hesder’ yeshiva students are considered soldiers even while studying, and are the first to be called-up in time of war. The opportunity to serve in such a program should be offered to all students, from all yeshivas, and from all the various sectors and groups.
The Present Situation is far from Satisfactory
Some people claim that, in fact, the religious-Zionist community studies Torah and serves in the army, and lo and behold – they seem to get along fine! If so, all the hareidim should follow in their footsteps!
However, the truth must be told: Along with fulfilling the great mitzvah of serving in the army, the religious community pays a heavy price for carrying the burden of Israel’s defense and national security. It’s no secret that more than twenty percent of youth from the religious-Zionist community leave the way of Torah and mitzvoth.
A significant number do so during, or as a result of, their army service. Even among those who remain religious, many are significantly weakened in the army. Did their parents, who invested fortunes of money sending their children to pre-military academies in hopes that they remain religious – even minimally, invest those fortunes in vain?
Periodically, we also hear cries of grief from various elements within the army, complaining there are too many religious officers. If they complained about not enough secular people enlisting in the army, their cries would be appropriate. But when the argument is that there are too many religious officers – not because the soldiers are inferior or less-professional, but because they are liable to change the secular atmosphere of the I.D.F. – the only way to interpret this is that they believe the army should be secular in nature.
Therefore, the religious community should take the lead in calling for change in the social and moral atmosphere in the army. Apart from benefitting the religious sector, today, it is also a pressing national and security necessity, because at this point in time, everyone realizes that Israeli society needs the hareidi community to share in the security burden.