Rabbi Zalman Melamed, Dean of Beit El Yeshiva and a leading figure in religious Zionism, clarified on Tuesday his opposition to plans to force hareidim to enlist into the military or carry out alternative national service.
"Any coercion in cutting down the number of Torah students or cutting their stipend will cause greater alienation of the hareidi public and widen the rifts in the nation, and contribute nothing to equality in bearing the burden of citizenship," Rabbi Melamed said.
"This must be opposed with great vigor," he stressed.
"Everyone knows that the army does not need all the people it enlists every year and there is a lot of hidden unemployment in the military. For the army's sake, the number of soldiers should be reduced and their quality and professionalism need to be increased.
"A wide scale civilian service or national service will also be an unnecessary burden on the state and will do more harm than good.
If hareidi men are exempted from military service, the rabbi predicted, a large proportion of them will learn professions and join the workforce. This will be a natural process of coming together, not a coerced one of tearing apart.
Rabbi Melamed outlined his plan for dealing with the enlistment issue, which includes the following points:
- The military will take in only those who fit its needs. It will be smaller and of higher quality. Those who serve will receive tax benefits and other advantages.
- All those who avoid service yet are not yeshiva students will bear a financial burden in the form of a tax. This includes members of minorities.
- Many yeshiva students who are not built for long years of Torah study and are not military material either will learn professions and join the work force.
- Those who remain in yeshivas and study diligently will receive greater compensation than they do today.
- Torah students will be exempt from the tax (item 2), but will pay the tax once they start working.
- The army will establish more units that allow hareidi soldiers to enlist without concern of spiritual harm.
- The Education Ministry and military will work with youth to educate them that military service is an important value for those who are built for it.
- All must be educated to understand that military service is a Torah commandment. It is a mitzvah to defend the nation of Israel and the Land of Israel.