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How do you solve Charedim and the IDF?
Can the impossible be done?
How do you solve the problem of the enormous and growing charedi community being utterly opposed to serving in the IDF?
The first step is to recognize that there is no effective, large-scale, short term solution. As mentioned previously, charedi society is so deeply and fundamentally opposed to army service that there’s simply no way to draft them all. They would go to prison rather than serve.
Many believe that the smarter thing to do is to simply forget about getting charedim into the army, and focus on getting them into the professional workforce instead. This at least avoids the current trajectory of them crashing the economy (by being under-employed, paying little tax, and receiving massive welfare benefits), which will itself make it impossible to have a properly-funded army that can defend Israel. And since it’s the requirement of army which is keeping tens of thousands of charedim in yeshivah, it’s better to drop that requirement so that they can go out and study or work.
There’s a lot to be said for that approach. But there are also three problems with it.
First is that such blatant unfairness, aside from the frustration and pain that it causes to so many in Israeli society, cannot be reconciled with the legal system, which requires equality. Still, this perhaps can be overcome with short-term legislation.
Second is that in a situation like the current one, we need more people to have had army training. There are currently 350,000 reservists that have been mobilized for the past month. For many of these people, their businesses are crashing. And for larger corporations, there are very serious problems. An article about the R&D centers of the multinational companies established in Israel says as follows:
"The war has created a substantial vacuum in the workforce of the high-tech sector. This scenario is especially noticeable in multinational corporations located in Israel, where the percentage of employees recruited to the reserves is significantly higher than the national average. In addition, reserve recruitment of spouses of employees at these companies is nearly the same percentage. These workers are often key figures in their organizations - senior managers, entrepreneurs, engineers, developers, project managers and a host of other roles critical to the day-to-day operational success and long-term strategic initiatives of their companies. The absence of these professionals from the day-to-day functioning of the high-tech sector has a wider impact. This not only harms the current projects but also sends a worrying message to their global headquarters about the reliability and stability of their Israeli operations, and of Israel in general.”
If there were 150,000 charedim available to the reserves instead of being in kollel, the pressure could be reduced for the rest of society.
Third is that it’s become clear that getting charedim into the army is not just about equalizing the burden and reducing the unfair strain on everyone else. We actually need them to be in the army. We’ve learned that we cannot rely on hi-tech fences. And if there is ever a multi-front war, and an uprising from among the millions of Palestinians and Arabs within Israel, we’re going to need as many people as possible to have had army training. We certainly cannot afford to be redirecting troops away from the front lines to be protecting Kiryat Sefer, Beitar and Ofakim.
And so while we cannot even dream of drafting all or even most of the charedim, we must look at how to at least draft as many as realistically possible. There are many diverse sub-groups within charedi society. With many of them, no progress is possible at all; with some, there is nudging can be done; and with yet others, there are significant opportunities.
Ironically, it’s the horror of October 7th, and the fear that it created, which presents the seeds of hope. Several thousand charedim drafted for a very limited form of training and service. These were genuine charedim, albeit from the “new charedi” sector of society with those of a much more “modern” outlook, and who were already post-kollel. It seems that this was because they actually ideologically wanted to be involved in a nationally important cause, rather than just that they realized that their home towns need people who can defend them. It was a surprising and welcome development.
Now, even the 2-3000 who took this initiative are a very, very small number in comparison to the 150,000 that receive an exemption. And unfortunately there is no charedi rabbinic leadership for this sector of charedi society, and no big-name charedi rabbinic support for such initiatives. Still, it is a significant burst of change. And, as interviews with the first graduating group demonstrate, these people are very likely to inspire and encourage further change. This is both in terms of motivating other older men in the charedi community to do similar training and service, and opening people up to notion of their children doing full service.
Such change must be intelligently nurtured and incentivized. I am not sure how to encourage more older charedim to go for this limited form of army service, but perhaps others have ideas. Certainly financial incentives would help.
There are also two or three small fringe charedi programs for young men that combine yeshivah with some form of army service (one is combat, the other is technology). These should be encouraged, promoted and well funded. The same goes for the new type of modern charedi elementary and high schools which teach secular studies, if they also present army service as a legitimate option. Conversely, the court will have to penalize charedim, or charedi institutions, which do not serve in the army. But these punishments must only be financial, not prison.
The funding of charedi army/yeshiva programs should be governmental, but unfortunately the war has impoverished the government. And for the people reading this, it’s private donations that we need to think about. If you want to support Torah institutions, make it clear that you will only support those that include or encourage some form of IDF service. And spread the word about the importance of such institutions. The survival of Israel may depend on it.
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