Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party head Naftali Bennett tackled the tough subject of Torah study and army enlistment in his first-ever Knesset speech. Bennett praised the hareidi community for its dedication to Torah study, but warned that the current situation cannot continue.
“The state of Israel is like a stretcher, where at first eight soldiers carry one soldier, then seven carry two, now five are carrying four,” he said. “The stretcher is going to fall.”
“In today’s first grade classrooms, thirty percent of the students are hareidi. It can’t be that they will not serve in the army; it can’t be that they will not help bear the economic burden,” he said. “That is clear to hareidi Jews, too.”
Bennett called on the non-religious world to change their tone as well. “In order to make change, we have to adopt three principles. The first is: Torah study is an existential interest for the entire Jewish world… It is not solely the interest of the religious, or of the hareidi community, but of us all,” he declared. “Just like a town in the Negev is not in the interest of Negev residents alone.”
“Torah study is what kept the Jewish people in existence throughout 2,000 years of exile,” he added. “The ancient Romans disappeared, the ancient Egyptians disappeared. Only we, the Jews, remained, in the merit of the Torah.”
The hareidi world has made amazing achievements, he continued. “When the state was established the hareidi community dedicated itself to rebuilding the Torah world, and reached an agreement with David Ben-Gurion, who understood the historic importance,” Bennett related. “He released 400 Torah scholars so they could rebuild what had been destroyed.”
“Today, the Torah world in Israel is a magnificent world that produces generations of Torah scholars,” he declared.
The second principle that the non-religious world must keep in mind, he said, “is that hareidi Jews are our brothers. They are a wonderful community… They live a life of sacrifice, and kindness, for the ideal of Torah.”
However, he said, “The third principle is that the current situation cannot continue.”
While 400 Torah scholars were released from service in Ben-Gurion’s time, today that number has risen to 50,000, he said. “My hareidi brothers, army service is also a mitzvah [commandment],” he said. “Defending our homeland, protecting our children, and brotherly affection – these are values that are no less important than Torah study.”
“I served with brothers who knew how to learn Torah and how to drag a stretcher, to open a Gemara and to charge into battle,” Bennett said. “I will not allow attacks on my hareidi brothers, I will not allow the Torah world that was rebuilt after the destruction of the Holocaust to be damaged, but I will also not agree to a situation in which only part of the population has mothers who cannot sleep due to worry for their sons. We are brothers in joy, but we must be brothers in suffering, too.”
“There is no other way,” he concluded.