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Out of Service

Rachel Ginsberg

Yair Lapid wants to yank 5,200 bochurim out of the beis medrash. Aside from the fact that a nonnegotiable principle of Torah learning is at stake, what will the army do with thousands of black-hatted conscripts?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

soldiers Walk into a room and say “chareidim and the army” and everyone will start to yell. Today, nothing riles up a crowd more than discussing whether or not yeshivah bochurim should join the IDF. But the discussion is much more complex than Yesh Atid Knesset faction leader and finance minister Yair Lapid would have us think, and pulling 5,200 yeshivah students out of the beis medrash every year under the threat of jail time is a questionable solution to the IDF’s manpower needs at best — unless there is a separate social agenda in the wings.

Within the Torah world — both in the chareidi and even in some circles of the right-wing “dati-leumi” camps — there is a sacred principle that a boy committed to Torah study can’t be yanked away from his Gemara against his will in order to fill a quota that the military never established. So when the Peri Committee’s new “sharing the burden” draft guidelines (which the Knesset must ratify into law by August 1) called for forcing all chareidim — with the exception of 1,800 to-be-determined “illuyim” — to be conscripted into military or national service or face prison, the entire yeshivah world dug in its heels.

And while thousands of yeshivah and kollel young men are holding their breath in anticipation of what awaits them come Rosh Chodesh Elul, the larger debate about if, and how, chareidim who are no longer in yeshivah full-time can be mainstreamed in the IDF has become the hot-button issue of rabbis, communal askanim, and army brass. This complicated web of ideological and practical factors has a bottom red line: even if a bochur is no longer learning, he still needs a spiritually safe environment.

Over the years, communal activists — with the tacit agreement of some roshei yeshivah — have created several networks for boys and young men who wish to enlist within a safeguarded framework, including such programs as Nachal Haredi (officially called Netzach Yehuda) and Shachar, a framework for married men who have left kollel and want to join the workforce. The men who have been behind such initiatives say the army is willing to develop more of these programs in an effort to find encompassing solutions for boys who don’t fall into a neat yeshivah package, but Lapid and his hasty measures have torpedoed the very process that was moving in the direction the freshman finance minister claims to favor.

Yet the defense minister himself was aghast at parts of the proposed legislation. “I refuse to live in a Jewish state that sends yeshivah bochurim to prison,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon stated, threatening to vote against the criminal sanctions part of the bill before Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu forced party discipline on him. “If we keep making these drastic policy mistakes, we’re going to lose everything that’s been gained in the enlistment process of the last few years. Why are we going to battle against the chareidim and sparking hatred? If this happens, all goodwill so carefully built will crumble. Nachal Haredi will fall apart.”


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