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The Plesner committee, tasked with drawing up an alternative to the Tal Law that exempts yeshivah students from mandatory military service, is expected to submit its recommendations this week. Committee manager Aviad Friedman, a successful religious Tel Aviv businessman who begins his day with a regular Gemara shiur, states that he will do everything in his power to draft as many yeshivah bochurim as possible into the military.
I don’t believe there is hatred of chareidim today, but I believe there could be a healthier Torah world. I would like to see chareidi men fill a predetermined period of military service and then return to the beis medrash. And so I accepted this position because I believe that we must bring about a fundamental change in Israeli society. We can’t run away from it anymore.
Are you really motivated by the army’s demand for additional manpower, or is there some underlying intention to change the face of chareidi society?
I believe that all of us on the committee [made up of Orthodox scholars, political analysts and businessmen –ed.] are disturbed by that thought. G-d forbid, we’re not trying to change anyone. We want everyone who comes into the army chareidi to remain chareidi when he leaves. Second, we are investing a good deal of creative thought into allowing talented talmidei chachamim to continue learning for many uninterrupted years.
On the chareidi street, most people will tell you they aren’t necessarily opposed to army service ideologically, but the army, with its social openness, is no place for a yeshivah bochur. Is the army really capable of, and willing to create more units such as the air forces’ Shachar or the Kfir Brigade, which are “sterile zones,” off-limits to women?
We’re not naïve. And we’re willing to make major changes to ensure there will equality in service.
Will the government realistically be able to support all the accommodations they are promising to the chareidim? For example, if a young man pushes off his draft to age 23 and by then he is married with two children, the army must pay him a few thousand shekels a month instead of 300. Can you afford it?
Yes, the government is willing to make a huge investment on this. It will be complicated, but the ideological issue here is very strong, and will outweigh straight financial considerations.
Is the chareidi community justified in being concerned by a committee headed by Yochanan Plesner, who’s never been considered a close friend of the chareidim?
I’ve known Yochanan for many years. I think that the only thing motivating him is his ideology. I am saying that to his credit, even though chareidi readers may not exactly consider it a positive point. I think that he represents what we could call the “salt of the earth.” He was an officer in the army and later studied at Harvard. He worked for Mackenzie, a leading consulting firm, and he could have been living inNew Yorktoday, raking in an annual salary of half a million dollars. But he chose to forgo those creature comforts and work for his country instead.
This week, I told him about the meeting between David Ben Gurion and the Chazon Ish. I told him the Chazon Ish’s parable about the empty wagon [the state] that has to make way for the wagon that is full [the yeshivah world], and he told me he feels that his own wagon is also filled with ideology, with faith, with conviction, and with sacrifices on behalf of others. Now, maybe Yochanan’s wagon isn’t full with all the things I would have wanted or that the chareidi world considers important, but you can’t say it’s empty. We are speaking about a first-class man of principle. A person who has risked his life for the Jewish people has a special place.
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