Op-Ed: A Hareidi Yeshiva Student Writes About the Tal Law
Rafi NewmanThe writer is a 23 year old Yeshiva Student learning in the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He made aliya from the US in 1999 with his family.
I’m hareidi and I am against Tal Law.
With hopes and dreams of living in Israel, the real land of opportunity, the land that values freedom and Jewish principles, our family moved from the United States to Israel in 1999. I was 10 years old then and blinded to the surrounding complications of life in Israel, but little by little I came to realize that the idealistic state I strongly believed in, was non-existent for me.
As an American I shared the passion of expanding my own knowledge with the instilled intellectual curiosity in various subjects, and as someone who grew up in the hareidi world, I also had access to some of the best mentors in Jewish studies that exist in Israel. You could say I had the best of both worlds.
But that was until I realized the truth about the Tal Law.
I was shocked upon reaching 18 that I was barred from leaving Israel, and if so, for only a brief visit. If I extended my stay, I would face imprisonment.
I was shocked to find out that as a religious person studying in a religious institution; it was absolutely forbidden for me to go to work under any circumstances, until I reach an “advanced age”.
I was shocked and appalled that it was forbidden for any religious person to apply to a university, prior to his draft.
The dream of a life of freedom in Israel was shattered.
One might ask oneself, why would Israel do such a thing? Why would there exist such outrageous laws that violate the core and essence of fundamental human rights? And in fact did the Tal Law benefit the hareidim or merely exacerbate their hardships?
To those relentless, harsh critics of hareidim, I pose one question: Would you, living where you may, hopefully in a civil democratic country, be able to manage financially if you were not allowed to work, were banned from universities, and similarly banned from seeking a life beyond the “safe haven”?
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps you have kids. Perhaps someone in the family G-d forbid is sick and the insurance does not cover the costs or because you could not afford insurance. How would you manage?
While Israel gloats that the unemployment rate is at 5.6%, a number the United States would be envious to have, the fact of the matter is that this is deceptive. One out of every three or four residents in Israel lives under the poverty line, one of the highest rates in any westernized country. Children right and left cling to welfare for survival. Of those under the poverty line, 56.9% of are hareidi families.
With no option of getting a better profession, the majority of hareidi families are held captive because of their belief in learning, as debt slaves to banksters, sighing a breath of relief after each month passes. They must rely on foreign charity sources to sustain themselves and for their family to stave outright starvation. Men and women alike are forced to humiliate themselves and collect stipends from door to door collections, from anyone who would have enough decency to show some compassion and abate their misery. Abject poverty is one of the hardest anguishes to endure, if not the hardest itself. This is the lifestyle of the typical hareidi family.
As housing prices rise, and the world’s economy becomes increasingly unstable, this puts enormous strain on the typical hareidi family.
One would think that Israel would have the decency to lift these detestable and loathsome constraints, but sadly, this is not the case.
Many politicians moan that if only hareidim would go to the army, or national service, then the economic situation would stabilize. From their proposals, I see that my fears were well founded; as well as my fears of these self-serving politicians who have less than no knowledge on the hareidi world, on economics or even what is fundamentally in the best interests of the country.
Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of “intellectuals” in the secular population have farfetched delusions of hareidim, some which are even so extreme that they cross the border of anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Blaming the hareidi for that whatever goes wrong is no different than anti-Semites blaming the Jews for anything that goes wrong. Here the hareidim’s fault is that they are “too Jewish”. The secular lament that if only they went to the army; if only they went to work; if only they weren’t “so Jewish” - is despicable, if not laughable. I have faced these bald faced racist prejudices in Israel from many secular acquaintances throughout the years, each one competing in its levels of abhorrence, which becomes apoplectic in desperate political campaigns.
The issue of hareidim and the army is a pseudo issue.
The truth is tat for many decades the Israeli army has been the source of pride for all Israelis. Israelis joined because they wanted to. They felt a strong,Zionistic passion to rebuild the country anew. They felt it a privilege to, for the first time in two thousand years, bear arms, for Jews to be able to protect themselves. But to accomplish this dream, many sacrifices were made.
Israel is the only country in the world that has a mandated draft for women, a mandate that extends to this very day. This was strongly opposed by the hareidi and religious Zionist Rabbis, and an agreement was reached that the draft would not be imposed on religious women. Ironically enough, over the years, many non-religious women have tried to claim they were religious to avoid the draft.
Similarly, Israel is the only country in the world that has enlistment for those who are deaf or those who have diabetes.
Furthermore, Israel has an extremely long conscription of 3 years for men. There is only one more country in the world that shares this long a draft. That country is North Korea.
People do not realize how expensive soldiers are. On the average, a solider can cost approximately $100,000 a year, and in war time, this can be tenfold. Even government officials admit that they would have to increase substantially the budget and naturally raise taxes to draft hareidim. When a quarter of the country is beneath the poverty line, any such action would be devastating. And what’s more absurd is the current trend that people want to force more than 50,000 hareidi men to do “national service”.
I would go as far as to say that national service closely resembles slave labor. National service, which is not a service to any national interests, expects 40 hours of mindless work weekly for an entire year, for which they pay the value of that work - $1 an hour.
Those serving non- combat positions in the army get even less than $1 an hour. Combat soldiers for three years get a little less than $2 an hour.
How can Israeli politicians be willing to force over 50,000 hareidi men under threat of jail to work under for $1 an hour? It is the same politicians that decry that these men who are the breadwinners, upon whom tens of thousands of children depend upon their livelihood, must seek subsidies from welfare, only because they are victims of unfair treatment because of their religious status.
This doesn’t just affect hareidim. It is also directly negates normative standards of living for all Israelis. Creating a law that abolishes restrictions of freedom for all citizens should be a national concern and not for the self-serving purpose for Israeli politicians to impose their obtuse and irrational agendas upon society.
There are many ways to solve these issues. But only few would produce productive results. I suggest the following:
- Cancel the draft entirely. Benefits will be granted to those who join, but there is no compulsory draft for woman, men, Olim, and people with disabilities. No mandate of national service as well.
- Those serving in the IDF or national service will get - at the very least - minimum wage.
- Shorten the conscription to a period of 12-18 months.
Regardless of what you may think of us, we are not that different. We share the past horrific experiences of the holocaust, the current horrors of terrorist attacks and our shared dream to live in peace and prosperity.
The schism between the hariedi yeshiva student and the hardal (strictly religious Zionist, ed.) soldier in a hesder yeshiva is not that wide. Both believe in the preeminence in Torah learning and strive to live in a just and righteous manner as well as they can. Both appreciate the benefits of a strong Israel able to stand up to the hundreds of million who want us all dead.
What I am advocating is showing our appreciation of those who risk their lives for all of Israel by tangible benefits, not the least of them, a wage which is at least minimum wage. Other benefits of soldiers which should be expanded are property rights such that currently exist. Presently certain soldiers are granted gratis a half dunam lot to build a house in the Negev or other areas. Moreover, they are afforded grants and generous loans. In some army programs, all of university tuition is waived. There should be more and more tangible incentives to add to the national pride that a soldier has in his service to his country.
At the same time, no one of any gender or background – man, woman, deaf, diabetics, dati leumi, haredi or an olah, should be forced to join the army should they not want to for whatever reason it may be- for without this basic rights of freedom, what is democracy?
People should have the option to pursue their life whether it is for those seeking an academic career, a better financial future or perhaps start a life in the army. That is their choice, and it should be their choice and not something forced upon them. I am advocating opening the job market to hareidim by simply allowing them to work where it is now illegal. I am advocating opening academia to them, where if they choose to, they can apply their Talmudic logic and perseverance in law and science.
There will always be those who continue to learn and I hope that that number will grow but for any one of any background, freedom of choice should be a national priority.
Regardless of the unabashed reprehensible anti-Semitic campaign of certain Knesset members, hareidim are not a leech sucking the blood of the country. As it stands now, according to the Law if one is studying in Yeshiva, that individual is forbidden to work. If one is post yeshiva, marries and enters a Kollel program, he likewise is forbidden to work. The government only gives compensation for being in a Kollel if: you have 3 children, no car, and wife makes less than X amount.
The media have for decades claimed that hareidim do not join the workforce, but it is only because of the laws that the government imposed! While we may dress in clothes that are deemed unfashionable by some, there is no reason why that would justify forced labor, or imprisonment because of the color of our clothes.
So what is a pragmatic approach to the travesty of the Tal law that will benefit all Israelis?
Any politician, who sincerely wants to help the country, should advocate ending forced conscriptions for everyone including men and women raising soldier’s wages tremendously; and shortening the conscription period.