Do the Haredim make Israel more or less of a Jewish state?
This posting has these items:
1) Haretz: Jerusalem completely cut off as half a million ultra-Orthodox rally against draft, view from the Israeli streets;
2) Guardian: Israel’s ultra-orthodox Jews have a duty to serve their country, an opinion from Seth Freedman;
3) RT: Ultra-Orthodox Jews outraged as Israel passes military conscription law , how the left and the right wish it to be seen;
4) Tablet: Israel Closer to Ultra-Orthodox Conscription lists the problems that remain;
5) Israel Pulse: Lapid wins superficial victory over drafting ultra-Orthodox, a scornful view from Mazal Mualem – Lapid’s glory, but nothing will change
Ultra-Orthodox men dance before mass demonstration in protest against military service, Jerusalem, March 2nd, 2014. Photo by Menahem Kahana /AFP
Jerusalem completely cut off as half a million ultra-Orthodox rally against draft
Demonstration in Jerusalem brings traffic in and around capital to a halt for hours.
By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz
March 03, 2014
A massive demonstration by ultra-Orthodox Jews against the government’s proposed military draft law brought hundreds of thousands of Haredim to Jerusalem on Monday, virtually closing off the city. Route 1 into the capital was closed to all traffic except for public transportation, and heavy traffic was reported on other routes in the city.
By 5:30 P.M. around 500,000 protesters, according to police estimates, had gathered near the Chords Bridge at the main entrance to Jerusalem. Some 2,000 buses brought in demonstrators from outside the capital.
About 3,500 police officers, Border Police officers and volunteers were on hand at the demonstration, according to Jerusalem District police chief Maj. Gen. Yossi Pariente. The rally, which ended at about 6 P.M., was peaceful, with soldiers and police officers mingling with the crowd without incident.
Under the hazy yellow skies, one could walk for miles in any direction through Jerusalem’s Haredi neighborhoods in a human forest without reaching the end: around the Kirya government compound, along and under the Chords Bridge, through Kiryat Moshe, Mekor Baruch and Romema, and around the army enlistment office on Rashi Street.
Leaders along the entire spectrum of the Haredi community, from the Sephardi Shas party to the anti-Zionist Eda Haredit, called on their followers to attend, and they responded. Men could be seen roaming the streets in hopes of catching a glimpse of a leading rabbi standing on the balcony of his apartment and observing the goings-on.
The crocheted kippot of the Haredi Zionists were more in evidence on the outskirts of their Kiryat Moshe neighborhood, as this group also sought to identify with the ultra-Orthodox struggle. But few of their rabbis had called on their followers to take part in a rally that was counter to the position of Habayit Hayehudi, a party popular with Haredi Zionists.
No speeches were planned, or made. Instead, the rally took on a religious flavor. Shofars were blown, and rabbis representing the various communities, Ashkenazi and Sephardi alike, recited from Psalms.
The high point of the gathering was when Rabbi Reuven Elbaz led the crowd in the recitation of the prayer “Shema Yisrael,” which was followed by the crowd chanting “The Lord, He is God.”
A special declaration was then read containing the rally’s resolutions, which were based on decisions by consensus of the three major councils of Torah sages, which met last week in Bnei Brak – that of Shas, Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael. The crowd cheered when the resolution was read “calling on yeshiva and kollel students not to be drafted into the army under any circumstances, not to give in to temptations and punishments of any kind and not to cooperate with the plans of the army in any way whatsoever.”
Another resolution called on the government not to pass a law “that would harm those studying Torah and force them to leave Torah study to the point of throwing them into jail, which is an uprooting of the Torah and sacrilege against Heaven.”
Many people came with their children in tow, such as Yitzhak Ravitz, chairman of Degel Hatorah and deputy mayor of the ultra-Orthodox town of Betar Ilit. Ravitz rejected claims that the new law would be good for Haredim. “Of course it’s bad, they are trying to restrict students of Torah and it doesn’t matter if you think the way is efficient or not,” he told Haaretz. Pointing to his 13-year-old son, one of his 11 children who came with him to the rally, Ravitz said: “I’m here because of him. If he has to go to the army, the state will fall apart. I am a Zionist, and I fear that the State of Israel is in mortal danger if it raises a hand against the Torah.”
A Gerer Hasid said: “Yair Lapid has made us all zealots. Thanks to Lapid, we can build the wall again. Children in the street are afraid today, as if the Gestapo is coming, and this is a gift that Lapid gave the Haredim.”
Israel’s ultra-orthodox Jews have a duty to serve their country
Annulling the Haredi exemption from national service has ignited civic tensions but it is for the long-term good of Israeli society
By Seth Freedman, Guardian-CiF
February 27, 2012
The annulment of the so-called Tal Law exempting ultra-orthodox seminary students from conscription to the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) is threatening to engulf Israeli society in yet another internal imbroglio. Secular-religious relations are barely below boiling point at the best of times, and the latest high-court ruling threatens to see the cauldron bubble over for months to come.
Yeshiva (seminary) students have been exempt from national service since the earliest days of the state, after Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, struck an ill-fated deal with the Haredi community, allowing 400 full-time scholars to remain in learning rather than take up arms to defend the country. This 400-man ceiling was lifted in 1977, ushering in a decades-long stand-off between those on either side of the secular-religious divide.
Love it or hate it, the IDF is critical to the survival of the Israeli state in its current form – hence most mainstream Israelis willingly send their sons and daughters off to complete their compulsory national service when they turn 18. In their eyes, the army should be the great leveller for Israeli society – rich, poor, tall, short: all know their duty to the state, and all expect their fellow citizens to pull their weight.
But to a significant group of Israeli Jews – the million-strong Haredi community – serving their country in either a military or vocational capacity is of scant interest or importance. And, thanks to their political clout in Israel’s fragile system of proportional representation, when the Haredim want things their way, they invariably come out on top.
From taking outrageous sums out of governmental coffers to fund religious schooling to pressurising state-run bus companies to enforce illegal gender-segregation on their routes, the ultra-orthodox community has been wreaking havoc on civic Israeli society for years – and the problem is only getting worse.
Rightwing Israeli nationalists regularly entreat their government to deal with the “ticking time bomb” of Israeli-Arab population growth, fearful that the Zionist project will collapse in on itself if demographic shifts result in more non-Jewish citizens than Jews. As unpalatable as such rhetoric is, it also assumes that if only the majority of the country was Jewish, then all would be well in Israeli society.
Bitter experience with the unwieldy Haredi community shows this is far from the case, and the annulment of the Tal Law puts the issue firmly at the forefront of the national consciousness once more.
The massive Haredi birth rate sustains the Jewish element of the population. It also means that the proportion of Israel’s population who are ultra-orthodox has rocketed to more than 10%, with the vast majority of Haredi males going into yeshiva learning rather than completing their national service. Full-time Torah study used to be the preserve of only the most talented and able-minded scholars, while the rest worked for a living and contributed to the upkeep of the students.
However, the fiscal capitulation of successive Israeli governments to the Haredim has meant almost every adult Haredi male can now afford to eschew paid employment in favour of yeshiva study, to the chagrin of secular Israeli society. Their sense of injustice is heightened over the issue of national service, and rightly so, yet their pleas to the Haredim to do their bit fall on deaf ears.
Haredim believe it is their study of Torah and prayers, rather than soldiers’ manoeuvres in the field, that provide the last line of defence for the Jewish people – but such ethereal posturing does little to assuage the hostility their draft evasion engenders. Nor do proclamations such as that of Haredi leader Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, who denounced the high-court ruling as “a decree to uproot religion”, adding:
“We are commanded to protect [religion] with our lives without exception, God forbid, in order to sanctify the name of heaven. The purpose of this awful decree is to harm the heart of Judaism – this cannot be in Israel.”
By flouting the laws of conscription, the Haredi community may well be challenging some important Talmudic directives. For example, the principle of dina d’malchuta dina (literally, the law of the land is the law). Jews are commanded to respect the laws of the host country in which they are domiciled, in order to foster good relations between themselves and their fellow citizens. Equally, there is the principle that preservation of life takes precedence over (almost) all other religious obligations. But when it comes to the Haredim in Israel, such civic-minded thinking goes out of the yeshiva window.
Instead, the ultra-orthodox prefer to endorse a caste system where only secular families send their children to the frontline, while their Haredi peers sit with their heads in books in safe and secure study halls. And woe betide any political faction who tries to stop them, or yet another coalition will be brought to its knees. The Haredim have no problem getting involved in mainstream society when it suits them, namely at the voting booth, but the buck stops there. Until the Haredim embrace their duties more holistically, secular Israelis must act to stop the rot, for the long-term good of all citizens of the state.
March 12, 2014
Despite protests from Jewish opposition parties and diaspora groups, Israeli MPs on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a law forcing ultra-Orthodox Jews to join the military, perform civilian service or face prosecution.
The bill was voted through the 120-seat Knesset by a wide margin of 65 to 1, with the main opposition parties boycotting the vote. The single dissenting vote was cast by far-right Jewish Home MP Yoni Chetboun.
The law would mean a major change in Israeli society, where ultra-Orthodox Jews have traditionally been exempt from military service, instead serving society through prayer and study, helping to protect Jewish culture. But in recent years, calls for the ultra-Orthodox to contribute more to the country’s defense and economy have grown dramatically.
Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri stated after the bill’s passage: “For the first time, an issue at the heart of the conflict of Israeli society will be solved. Dramatic change will come.”
However, the bill has given rise to a great deal of controversy. “I oppose the draft law,” Chetboun, who lost his position on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said in a statement. “It is ill-conceived, and comes at the peak of a wave of anti-religious legislation that seeks to dilute the Jewish character of the State of Israel.”
Opposition parties had earlier said they would not participate in the vote, which has sparked a wave of condemnation from ultra-Orthodox Jews, who make up about 10 percent of Israel’s 8 million citizens.
The law, which will go into force in 2017, requires that ultra-Orthodox males must either join the army or perform civilian service, with a special clause that punishes draft dodgers with possible imprisonment.
Israel has long had a compulsory draft, with men serving in the military for three years and women two.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews take part in a mass prayer vigil in Jerusalem on March 2, 2014.(AFP Photo / David Buimovitch)Ultra-Orthodox Jews take part in a mass prayer vigil in Jerusalem on March 2, 2014.(AFP Photo / David Buimovitch)
Earlier this month, hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews took to the streets of Jerusalem to speak out and pray against the impending legislation.
The protests also took place as far afield as New York, where on Sunday an estimated 50,000 Satmar Jews assembled along 10 blocks of Manhattan, with men and women in separate groups as is the tradition in religious ceremonies.
Thousands of Orthodox Jews gather on Water Street in lower Manhattan March 9, 2014 to pray and protest against the current effort by the Israeli government to pass a law to draft religious Jews into its army. Photo by Timothy A. Clary / AFP
“The problem is, anyone who goes into the Israeli military becomes secular, and that would erase our whole tradition,” Yitz Farkas, a member of the Brooklyn-based True Torah Jews organization, told AP.
“We’re all united against military service for religious men in Israel because it doesn’t allow for religious learning,” said Peggy Blier, an interior designer from Brooklyn. “The Israeli government is looking to destroy religious society and make the country into a secular melting pot.”
Since 1948, the year of Israel’s founding, adherents of Haredi Judaism, who reject many aspects of modern secular culture, including viewing films and television, were exempted from compulsory military service to pursue their stringent religious studies. Increasingly, however, many secular Israelis said the exemption for a relatively large number of Jews was unfair.
The draft law is regarded by several Israelis as rectifying a perceived historic injustice of exemption, given to the ultra-Orthodox community in 1948, when Israel was established as a nation. However, they were at that point only a small proportion of the population.
However, a high birth rate has since expanded their role in society, making them the fastest-growing group in the country.
“This is a historic, important bill,” MK Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi), who led the parliamentary committee to prepare the legislation, declared as quoted by the Jerusalem Post. “For 65 years there was an exemption for all yeshiva students and the change the coalition made is proportionate and gradual and correct.”
Shaked added that she “believes in the Haredi public and that it will reach the [conscription] goals the government set.
“I imagine this law will reach the High Court by tomorrow. I hope the judges will read the protocols of the committee meetings and see that even if the law is not equal it has a worthy goal, which is why I think it will stand the test of the High Court,” she added.
Immediately after the new law passed, the Movement for Quality Government petitioned the High Court against it.
On May 29, the Israeli government approved a proposal that would end the controversial exemption of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the military. The Tal Law, as it was dubbed, was deemed unconstitutional by the Israeli Supreme Court last year. For ten years, the law provided Haredim with a military deferment until they turned 22 years old, and then during a “decision year” they chose whether to work for a year in civilian national service or enlist for 16 months. Then Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch explained, however, that the law had failed to recruit a significant number of Haredim to the military and that it was improperly enforced.
When Haredim learned of the law’s doubtful future, a record number volunteered to enlist as to prevent a mandatory conscription. But it seems their efforts faltered. The new proposal replacing the Tal Law will require all Haredim to register for enlistment at 17, but if they’re studying Torah they can still put off the army until they turn 21 years old. If the bill makes it all the way to law, a few problems may arise.
Problem 1: Many Haredi men would rather “fill the prisons” than enlist, said Pini Rozenberg, spokesman for the Haredi community. So while some might be ready to compromise, about 20,000 others took to the street to protest on May 17.
Problem 2: In those additional years between 17 and 21, Haredi men could get married—in which case the IDF would have to pay them additional salary to support their families, which would create a financial burden on the military.
It’s still uncertain whether this proposal will solve all the problems that the Tal Law initially created, but for now, the law’s impending demise is aggravating an already rocky relationship between secular and ultra-Orthodox Israelis.
By Mazal Mualem, trans Aviva Arad, Israel Pulse/ Al Monitor
February 22, 2014
The day after Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s declaration of victory on Feb. 20, in the battle over the burden-sharing law, the ultra-Orthodox leadership also rushed to play its part in the play produced by the Yesh Atid chairman. The cries of pain of the ultra-Orthodox rabbis and the harsh threats of revenge on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from Knesset member Meir Porush of Yahadut HaTorah, published in Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, are no more than crocodile tears.
The just passed burden-sharing law is a major victory for the ultra-Orthodox, whose lives won’t change — in contrast to the misrepresentation by the leaders of Yesh Atid. But the representatives of the ultra-Orthodox sector have no interest in raising doubts as to Lapid’s supposed victory, or claim that they succeeded in defeated the draft while sitting in the opposition. Because it doesn’t matter with what pomposity Lapid announces the correction of a historic wrong that has lasted 65 years. The truth is that Israeli citizens went to sleep with the “draft reform” and woke up with a modified Tal Law exempting the ultra-Orthodox from being drafted — that is, one with a slightly improved status quo.
In his election campaign, Lapid promised to draft every 18-year-old male. In reality, he’s assisting the continuation of mass draft dodging under cover of the law. There will be no shared burden as long as the ultra-Orthodox are excluded from the Defense Service Law — this is the situation today and that’s how it will remain.
The debates of the Plesner Committee, the committee that previously tried to advance legislation for a shared burden, blew up in July 2012, and with it the short partnership of Netanyahu and the Kadima party, headed by former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. At that time, the ultra-Orthodox conducted an all-out war over two issues raised in the discussion: the age of the draftees and draft quotas. They wanted the age of the draftees to set as high as possible, and fought for predetermined draft quotas rather than a general draft. Netanyahu preferred to keep his pact with the ultra-Orthodox and disbanded the committee. The ultra-Orthodox achieved these two goals with the new law: They will be able to receive a deferment of service and study in a rabbinical college until age 26, and in exchange, they’ll have to meet the draft quotas determined by the government.
The quota for 2017 will be 5,200 young ultra-Orthodox people — a seemingly historic achievement considering that in every recruitment cycle, there are an average of 8,000 ultra-Orthodox candidates for army service. But beneath Lapid’s picture of victory hides the fact that the draftees included in the quota don’t have to come from one recruitment cycle, but from a reserve of tens of thousands of men who have recently deferred service. As such, instead of 70% of eligible ultra-Orthodox youth in every recruitment cycle, less than 7% will be drafted.
In addition, the government will be the one to monitor the quotas and to determine the draft goals. There’s no need to mention the flexibility of government decisions and the speed in which they can be changed according to political and coalition constraints. Thus, it’s easy to understand why the main achievement heralded by Yesh Atid — the criminal penalties on ultra-Orthodox who dodge the draft — is illusory. There will not be criminal penalties just as there won’t be economic penalties, since the ultra-Orthodox could easily meet the draft targets in the framework passed into law. Even today, without Lapid’s law, about 3,500 ultra-Orthodox serve in the Israel Defense Forces, 2,000 of them drafted in the last year.
The ultra-Orthodox couldn’t dream of a friendlier law. They see Lapid talking about a historic turning point and chuckle. Quietly and cleverly, through their associates among the settler leadership, they succeeded in pressuring Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett and Knesset member Ayelet Shaked of the right-wing HaBayit HaYehudi party behind the scenes, so that they would represent ultra-Orthodox interests in the committee. Despite the temptation to celebrate the new law and herald their achievement, they understand that now is the time to show restraint and let Lapid have his 15 minutes of fame. The public’s attention will move on to another topic, and they’ll enjoy their win.
One of the senior ultra-Orthodox politicians in close contact with the chair of the committee, Shaked, agreed to speak with Al-Monitor on the condition of anonymity: “We couldn’t have asked for a better law. In the war over public opinion against Lapid, we don’t really care that people would think we lost and we’re going to be drafted. That’s how they’ll get off our backs; that’s how we’ll get our peace and quiet back.” As for Porush’s claim that Netanyahu betrayed the ultra-Orthodox when he agreed to criminal penalties, the senior politician said, “What do you expect, that he’d be happy with it? We have to show that the law is bad for us.”
The threat of Porush that the ultra-Orthodox would punish Netanyahu in the presidential elections and block the Likud’s candidates he described as “part of the game. Just like in the last elections, when we threatened him that we’d endorse [then-Labor chair] Shelly Yachimovich because of the economic sanctions. I see ultra-Orthodox members of the Knesset regularly vilify Bibi [Netanyahu] ever since we didn’t enter the government, but the moment they get called to a meeting with him, they run into his arms and boast that just now, they sat with the prime minister.”
Lapid’s achievement amounts only to the marketing that gave the burden-sharing law a sense of being a historic step forward. The circle surrounding the chairman of Yesh Atid compares him to no less than late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who withstood intense pressure on the right on the eve of the passing of the Gaza Disengagement Plan in the Knesset. On the same night in October 2004, Sharon gave an exemplary leadership performance in the Knesset, as he sat cool-headed in the assembly hall, didn’t blink and didn’t give in, despite the fear that he would lose his office. Where exactly is the similarity in these two events? Only the Yesh Atid people can say.
Lapid, maybe more than any other politician, has the unique talent of distilling a complex issue into an exact and winning sentence, and to choose the image of victory that would serve his agenda most precisely. That’s how it was when the government was established: He wished to carve into the collective memory the image of a smaller coalition without the ultra-Orthodox, but on the way he gave up spots on all of the most important committees and other positions of power in the Knesset. That’s how it was this time, as well: He marked his goal as the criminal penalties and threatened to leave the government if they weren’t included, and conceded on essential points in the law.
In the battle over secular consciousness, Lapid won. But very soon, when the fog of war lifts, the facts will become clear. It could be that in several years, when Israeli citizens discover that most of the ultra-Orthodox continue to receive an exemption under the law, that no one goes to jail or is fined, another case will come before the Supreme Court that would shake the political system. But then, after the passing of Yesh Atid’s law, the situation will be much more complicated. That’s what a historic missed opportunity looks like.
Mazal Mualem is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse and formerly the senior political correspondent for Maariv and Haaretz. She also presents a weekly TV show covering social issues on the Knesset channel.
Notes and links
The Tal committee was an Israeli public committee appointed on 22 August 1999 which dealt with the special exemption from mandatory military service in the IDF given to Israeli ultra-Orthodox Jews, as well as extending mandatory military service to Israeli-Arabs. The committee was appointed by Prime Minister Ehud Barak and was initially headed by former Supreme Court Justice Tzvi Tal. The committee was later headed by Yohanan Plesner before its official dissolution on 2 July 2012, two days before submitting its report.
Based on the committee recommendations, on 23 July 2002 the Knesset passed the temporary Tal Law, which expired after five years and was renewed. The law authorises a continuation of the exemption to yeshiva students subject to the conditions within the law. According to the law, at the age of 22, yeshiva students have a “decision year” and can choose between one-year civilian national service alongside a paying job or a shortened 16-month military service and future service in the reserves as an alternative to continuing to study.
Five motions against the law were filed with the High Court of Justice claiming it violated the principle of equality. In 2005, the state admitted, in a response to a Supreme Court petition, that the Tal Law had failed to change enlistment arrangements for ultra-Orthodox Jews, as only a few dozen had enlisted in the army as a result. The law was then extended in 2007 for another five years. On 21 February 2012, the High Court ruled that the law is unconstitutional.
Israel: Supreme Court Decision Invalidating the Law on Haredi Military Draft Postponement, Library of Congress
In the 2012 decision in Resler v. Knesset, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein described the situation as follows:
- Nevertheless, we need to admit the truth, [that] unlike in the Jewish-Haredi society in other countries, which has understood that only a few brilliant individuals can live under the tent of Torah all their lives, in Israel a whole complicated sociological system has been built that even its leaders know, deep in their hearts, is not good and not appropriate, that because of military duty thousands of people sit in the yeshivas, where it is not their place. . . . These people, if they served in IDF, and if they worked like any other person while also making time for Torah [study] . . . , would be efficient both to the State, to their community, and to themselves.