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God’s Army

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You might think the army is the single most effective tool for bringing everyone together in Israel. It is a brilliantly successful citizen’s army designed to protect the nation, an army of the people, by the people, for the people. After all, the struggle to survive is the most primordial of human motivations. Surely we can all agree that we need to ensure survival? But no, sadly, we cannot.

Many religious Israelis strongly believe that sitting and studying Torah all the time is the best possible defense against our enemies and that there is no need for an army because God will protect us.

Others believe there might be a need for an army, but let other people endure the hardships, risks and time, while they pursue a scholar’s life, regardless.

Some agree to a compromise; genuine scholars ought to be granted the privilege of devoting their lives to study but less motivated young men might do well to have some army training and enhanced prospects of getting a job.

And there are, of course, other completely committed religious Jews willingly serve, and they do remarkably well, too. Increasingly, the elite soldiers are coming from the religious nationalist sector of the community, committed ideologically to defending the land, the religion, and the ancient borders promised by the Bible.

Don’t think that secular Israelis are not just as divided.

Some are eager to join the army for its camaraderie and training that in some areas equips them to be captains of industry and internet entrepreneurs.

Many argue that the army is an important tool of education and socialization and the reason that Israel has done better than any other state in integrating such a huge proportion of new immigrants from such diverse languages, backgrounds, and cultures.

Others think it imposes a simplistic, false ideological sense of militarism that conflicts with their sense of morality.

Some refuse to serve because they prefer to spend their time on sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

Some are cowards.

And some oppose occupation and object to settlements. They do not wish to serve in what they see as the armed wing of corrupt politicians or of governments whose political position they find offensive.

Some Israelis think it intolerable that all Charedi men do not serve in the army and play their part in defending their land.

Others think it’s a jolly good thing they don’t because we all know what happens when fanatics get hold of guns. And no army can allow its officers to be dictated to by rabbis. And it would affect the current role of women in the army. Besides, many of them are simply not army material.

Some argue that an elite voluntary force would be better than forcing people into conscription. Modern warfare needs fewer bodies in boots on the ground and more technical brain power. Others say that brain power is the key nowadays and Talmudic academies are well known for increasing brain power.

And we should not forget that there is a middle option of community service. After all, a similar divide over women serving in the first place was resolved by allowing Orthodox girls to serve in more protected and homogenous groups.

In addition to the variety of opinions, misinformation and mistrust abounds. Many secular Israelis believe that no religious Jews serve in the army altogether. 30% currently do. Most religious Jews think all secular Jews are Godless atheists. Each side tells lies about the other, and each side’s press churns out half-truths and false rumors about the other. The more one side pushes back, the more aggressive the other gets.

This past week we have read about Charedi soldiers being attacked when they returned to their communities wearing army uniform instead of black hats. There was a story about Charedi protesting against other Charedi young men attending a military passing out parade. On the other hand, there are stories about secular commanders making life difficult for religious conscripts: refusing to address their religious concerns and victimizing them. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. This inter-community tension has always been a significant feature of Israeli life.

Whether one agrees with one side or the other, there is a genuine cultural conflict of values and attitudes. Secular Israelis have a value system closer to Hollywood than Jerusalem. Charedi youngsters are brought up segregated and protected enclaves. Their leadership fears that if they are suddenly throw then into a mixed secular environment only the strongest would be able to resist the seduction of a liberal society. But of course one could ask why are there so many brought up within the walls of the Charedi ghettoes who still succumb to temptation even without going into the army.

Many Charedi Jews believe the non-religious genuinely want to destroy their communities and their way of life. Indeed, that’s what many of the early Zionist politicians set out to do. For their part, the secular believe all Charedi Jews are bloodsucking parasites.

In commerce, industry, and academic and professional expertise there are prominent Charedi contributors to Israel today, despite the attempts of the religious leadership to block it (not the money-making, of course; they all want that and glorify the wealth makers in their ranks, even if it means actually taking time off study). A major complication is that those who do not serve are at a great disadvantage in Israeli society because they cannot get jobs or work officially until they do. This effectively prevents very many Charedi men from getting work, and thus increases the burden in welfare.

In fact, in other Charedi communities around the world a much higher proportion do actually get jobs and contribute. In Israel, due to the political nature of the problem, the leadership refuses to budge on principle, and so condemns its own to penury and ignorance.

The allied problem of their refusing to allow even the most basic secular education in their schools exacerbates the problem. Here, too, there are different opinions. In the UK, Charedi schools only get state aid if they conform to minimal government curricular requirements. Why not in Israel? But no. The leadership, in public at least, is immovable, irrational. They posture on the one hand and fear on the other.

The Charedi leadership is suffering from paralysis and refuses to countenance any compromise. It insists that even the mentally challenged should spend all of every day on complex Talmudic debate rather than develop other skills that could be put to some use. It wasn’t always that way, incidentally. It is just that over the years positions have hardened and reversed.

If we can’t resolve these internal issues, how in the name of heaven can we hope to make any arrangement with anyone else even further removed? No, I don’t have an answer. It seems intractable and only a miracle of Divine intervention can solve it. So then how am I any different than those Charedi rabbis who say we must do all we can for God because He alone is capable of getting us out of this mess? The Talmud says we may not rely on miracles, but we do!

I have just heard that in committee a law has been agreed, with compromises, to extend the draft but allow for some exemptions. It hasn’t passed the Knesset yet. It might not. But after all my pessimism, there is a ray of hope. Perhaps we can do it without Divine help after all!

10 thoughts on “God’s Army

  1. Thank you Jeremy for your very thorough synopsis of the myriad of conflicts, literally from one end of the spectrum to the other, creates about meah v'esrim "Jewish" religions. And yes, if we as Jews, cannot even have a semblance of cohesiveness, then the future seems morbidly bleak. Jew against Jew, heck, we do not need enemies., l'daavoni harav.
    Two points I'd like to make, one re the Charedi position that their learning and praying yom v'layla is what keep us safe, a convenient reason to resist the draft. HOWEVER, this defense, is not claimed to be all inclusive, kol klal Yisrael. for if it were, then the Yeshivot of Netivot and Ashdod would not have felt the need to move to B'nei Brak and Beit Shemesh. What, lomdim yom v'layla did not keep them safe in Ashdod??
    So there must be some specified geographical maximum area that can be kept safe through their studies. Sounds like a "defense" "eruv". I wonder if they have the longitudes and latitudes worked out?
    Why did they move from Ashdod and Netivot if their studying and praying were so effective???? Food for thought, could it be that they do not believe their own claims, or are simply draft dodgers, or cowards, and would rather that someone else's sons put their life on the line to protect them and their 12-14 size litters of progeny???
    And, this, is a country that they do not accept, and would go to civil war over a myriad of reasons against the secular Jews, or even those less Charedi than themselves, and the WOW? And then their chief rabbis (sic) exhort them to commit suicide rather than submit to the draft. and they even have a mesirah hotline, if bamikreh, they know of a fellow bachor who is planning to enlist? The conclusion is plain, they would rather kill their fellow Jews, than the enemy. I ponder whether they willl first commit mass suicide as they were exhorted, or go to civil war, logistically, which would they do first. and, furthermore, after they have all committed suicide, who will fertilize the abundance of unmarried females who they would have married? Too many of the older guys prefer prebubescent males, I think the only solution to avoid letting the super charedi cults die out (after mass suicide) would be by using imported sperm for IVF from charedim in the US. And furthermore, I have not read the full commands, but i wonder what method of suicide they are obliged to utilize. If it involves scraping body parts off of sidewalks eet al, then they will, in addtion, be guilty of theft of services, of those who do that highly unpleasant job. .

    To what proposal re extendiing the draft, are you referring?

  2. Excellent comment and of course you have a brilliant point. But there is inconsistency in so many areas of the Charedi position. All knowledge comes from Torah, supposedly, but I have yet to hear of a Charedi Rav being operated on by a yeshiva Bochur who has only leant Torah.

    All I can tell you about then new draft proposals as I read them on the JTS is that they intend to aim in stages at 70% recruitment of Charedi males and to make the several thousand exemptions dependent on academic ( Lehavdil) targets.

    Shavua Tov
    Jeremy

  3. shavuah tov, Jeremy,
    and thanks for the kind words.
    Nidmeh li, that just in the last few weeks, there was an article claiming that they do not, in fact, need as many chayalim as they have, and then the addition of charedim is not exactly to their best use, best use, would be for training them for jobs in the real world, the world of Medinat Yisrael, whom they hate. i will have to search out that source. very very recent, from a very reliable source (I ONLY READ VERY RELIABLE SOURCES, SUCH AS YOURS, THANK YOU). DIDN'T REALIZE THAT YOU SIMULTANEOUSLY POST HERE, PRIVATELY AND ON ALGEMENER, I WILL LOOK FOR BOTH IN THE FUTURE. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERENCE AS TO WHERE COMMENTS ARE ENTERED? i JUST RANT, HAVE NO EGO, NO NAME TO MAINTAIIN, Lol, REALLY, WOULD YOU RATHER THE LARGER AUDIENCE ON ALGEMEINER? ALTHOUGH "LARGER" IS VERY RELATIVE TERM.

    lol RE EXEMPTIONS, MUST BE MINIMAL IQ OR COMPARABLE COMPARISON, LOMDIM YOM V'LAYLA, LOMDIM YOM V'LAYLA, AND WE SEE WHAT KIND OF G'DOLIM THAT HAS GOTTEN US. A BUSHA CHERPA SHONDA, AND FROM THERE I NEED HELP., additional yiddish words surely exist. KILL YOUR EXPLETIVE JEW, RATHER THAN THE ENEMY, IF NECESSARY, THESE,,,, OK,,,,,, I CANNOT or will not GO THERE, THESE GUYS HAVE TO GO, AND NOT REPRODUCE, PERHAPS, IN FACT, THEY HAVE NOT,,,,,,,,,,, GIVEN THEIR PREDILECTION FOR PREPUBESCENT BOYS, AND WHAT IS THE STORY RE THE REBBE, ALL LUBAV FAMILIES HAVE LITTERS OF AT LEAST 12. HOW COULD THEY LET HIM MARRY A BARREN WOMAN, HECK, WHY SHE, WHY NOT HE? SOMEWHERE THeRE HAS TO BE LOTS WRITTEN ABOUT THIS, UNLESS THE LUBAV'S BURNT THE BOOKS??"?

  4. I share your anger and disappointment but don't let it get it you down. The only way to combat such distortion is both by setting a better example and through Simcha, enjoying life as HaShem asks us to.

    We must point out failure and failings but we also need to be positive!

    Yeyasher Cochacha
    Jeremy

  5. Re: SIMCHA, I "learned" from a Tanya teacher, that it is a sin to be sad. WOW, how's that for helping people? Pile the guilt on a depressed person,, not only is he depressed but now feels guilt, Way to go CHABAD. Reminds me of Manis Friedman, (in the sense of the distortions of reasoning), ,, but I wiill refrain from one of my diatribes on that subject. Articles (diatribes) available upon request, LOL.

    And the Lubav story, love those creative stories, you know them when you see them, they all start, "there is an old archaic midrash" and then they say whatever they want. Highly creative.

    But this is the story of the man whose son is dying, doctor says that the boy will not last the night, but , instead of staying with his son, he leaves him alone, to die alone, it is Simchat Torah, so the man goes out to his very distant Rebbe, and dances (and does vodka shots) all night. And, because he fulfilled the mitzvah of being sameach on Simchat Torah, when he arrives back, from the distant Shul, his son has miraculously survived and is thriving, Don't you love ;this stuff?

  6. Sorry for the delay in replying!

    Probably Algemeiner is best if you want to open up a wider discussion.
    And on the other hand if you want it personal between us then try my email jeremyrosen(at)msn.com

    Otherwise replying in your delightfully acerbic style this way suits me just as well.

    Jeremy

  7. This whole simplistic ( and superstitious) approach to life is beyond me. But I never ceases to be amazed at how many people lap it up. Go figure! Maimonides must be turning in his grave!
    J

  8. You know it is true re the stories they will make up "the archaic esoteric midrash bit" the minute you see those words, you know the Chabad rabbi has gone off into a world of creativity. Consciously. They know their audience and the BT's just eat this stuff up.
    The creativity is usually beautiful sentiment, to be sure. They are being "loving". I am only a tiny bit tongue in cheek here.
    I sort of coerced younger daughter to go to a few classes, (private). long story anyway, as soon as Tanya teacher said that the REBBE wrote in his Sichot that the wife should be bitul to the husband, 14 year old kid, said never again, and of course i agreed v'od kamah v'kamah. . I am told that that is not true, by someone with 770 smicha.

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