Coercing hareidi-religious men into joining the IDF could make life harder for all Israelis by creating a burden on the military, Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed warned Wednesday, speaking to Arutz Sheva. Rabbi Melamed is a leading figure in the religious-Zionist world, where army service is valued as a mitzvah (positive command) and is dean of the Beit El Yeshiva in Binyamin as well as rabbi of the community.
“Take care that ‘equal share in the burden’ does not in itself become a burden on equality,” he warned.
Forcing hareidi men to do civilian service could also take more state resources than it is worth, he said.
Instead, Rabbi Melamed offered a different idea. “The whole solution to ‘equality in the burden’ could be very simple,” he said. “Whoever does not believe he belongs in the army would be free to learn or to work.”
In order to create equality, he suggested, those who choose to enter the workforce immediately would pay significantly higher taxes. “Taxing those who did not serve would be their contribution to the state, while at the same time those who did serve would get tax credits and other benefits,” he said.
“That way those who served would be rewarded, while those who did not serve would bear a financial burden in place of service,” he explained.
He compared the idea to the current practice in many small communities such as kibbutz towns or agricultural communities in Judea and Samaria. There, he said, “whoever is not interested in taking part in the security rotation pays each month, and is released from security duty.”
The proposal would allow the IDF to accept only those who are suited for service as soldiers, he added. The Education Ministry would play a part by educating youth about the value of army service and volunteerism, he said.
Previously, the Tal Law provided an automatic deferral from military service to men who studied Torah full-time, an exemption used primarily by hareidi men. The Tal Law was overruled by the Supreme Court last year, and several politicians have called to create a new law requiring all Jewish men to serve and punishing those who will not.
Several hareidi leaders have declared that hareidi men will not serve in the IDF no matter what the penalty. Others have warned that forcing service could set back efforts to promote gradual integration. Naftali Bennett of the religious Zionist Bayit Yehudi party has stated unequivocally that coercion is not the way to bring about change and that Torah learning is central to the Jewish state.