On the heels of the Israeli Supreme Court’s announcement that it will no longer allow the Knesset to get away with delaying or watering down the urgent national imperative of drafting all yeshivah men, a new group appears to have issued a direct challenge to the court’s hegemonic power grab. 

Comprised of a cross section of 50 American rabbis and activists, the group issued a policy statement this week that begins: 

While appreciating the efforts of Israel to provide religious freedom to all its residents, the goal of providing total religious freedom remains to be achieved. This is a critical challenge facing Israel both as a Jewish and as a democratic state. We, who are committed to Israel’s growing strength and vitality, as well as its bonds with world Jewry, hold that this challenge can no longer be left to politics alone, and we will do our utmost, in partnership between Israelis and world Jewry, to address this challenge and help make it a reality.

As a Jewish State, Israel must foster the Jewish character of the State. As a democratic State, Israel must grant equal rights to all of its citizens, regardless of their religious views or affiliations.
 

With such a ringing preamble, it would seem obvious where its signatories stand on the drafting of yeshivah men and religious girls.

Wait. Does this mean that finally, someone has had the courage to speak out against the Court? Is there greater violence done, after all, to Israel’s Jewish and democratic character than through the forced conscription into the military (so that’s why they call it the Israel Defense Forces…) of religious Jews whose Torah has taught for millennia, long before there was an Israel and an IDF, that the single greatest protection for the Jewish People is the intensive, widespread study of Torah, with the greater its quantity and quality, the greater the protective shield created?

To be sure, that’s all nonsense to the mind (since they’re all of one mind) of the enlightened Supreme Court. But just as surely, what the Court thinks is irrelevant in both law and logic, because as the statement above put it, this is a matter of “total religious freedom to all its inhabitants,” which Israel’s Jewish and democratic characters both demand.

In law, religious freedom isn’t measured by what a justice believes but by what justice demands, which is the protection of the individual’s right to live by his personal beliefs and values, however primitive and bizarre they may seem to the enlightened elites. It just so happens, however, that it’s not merely the idiosyncratic beliefs of an individual that are being squelched here, but the beliefs and values by which millions of Jews lived and died for millennia.

And in logic, the religious Jew’s position is straightforward. In His Torah, G-d says that various sins will cause the Land of Israel to spit out its inhabitants and bring all the curses of the Tochachah to come to pass. And in that same Torah, G-d says that keeping the Torah’s commandments will protect us from our enemies and all evil, and that the greatest protection of all is afforded by the greatest of those commandments, Torah study.

Then there are the facts. Never has Eretz Yisrael faced greater mortal danger than today: Iran and Russia in cahoots in Syria and Lebanon. An Iranian nuclear bomb in the offing. Savage enemies with tens of thousands of missiles encircling us.

And never has the spiritual disintegration been greater: Hundreds of thousands parade annually to celebrate the very sins for which the Land spits Jews out, funded by the city that is the foremost destination in the world for such sinners. A losing battle is being fought to hold back the floodgates of massive chillul Shabbos. The Court is about to open the Kosel, from which the Shechinah has never departed, to public displays of the very sins that chase the Shechinah out of our midst.

The army neither needs nor wants nor can accommodate a massive influx of religious Jews. The draft is presented as a high-minded pursuit of equality of burden, when in fact it is a vehicle for the purpose that the army has always served: to feed young men and women into its bowels to be Jewishly and morally pulverized and homogenized, emerging at the end of three years as full participants in secular Israeli society.

That such is the overriding purpose of the draft of yeshivah men is not a speculation from the fever swamps of Zichron Moshe, but the government’s stated objective, set forth for all to see in publicly available documents. The draft law “seek[s] to bring about significant social change,” and, the government happily reports to the Supreme Court, it “would not be an exaggeration to say that the picture of reality emerging from the observation of Haredi society today… reveals that a process of real change has begun. Thus, the rapid growth rate of the Haredi population, as well as other factors related to intra-Haredi development, all led to the realization that there is a pressing need for change and the integration of the ultra-Orthodox population into the general Israeli society.” And there’s much more of the same in the court papers those words come from.

What of equality of burden, you say? Just so. When indeed will the secular public begin sharing with yeshivah men the burden of mounting the spiritual protection that shields all Israelis from the dozens of terrorist plots that are constantly being hatched and from Iran’s covert bomb-building?

The Court doesn’t believe that? I feel sorry for it, and for the tragedy of its members being robbed of that belief. But Torah Jews, like millions of our forebears over thousands of years, do. So act like the judiciary of a Jewish state and a democracy, and leave us alone.

But wait a moment. This new declaration says nothing of exempting yeshivah men and religious girls from the draft. To the contrary, one of its stated objectives is that “Israel must also ensure that all its citizens fulfill their civic responsibilities and share fairly and appropriately in military/national service, as well as the labor force…” This, at the same time it asserts that the “State of Israel must guarantee religious freedom.” It’s all so confusing… until we realize that its authors and signatories are a mix of heterodox and Open Orthodox clergy-folk.

The declaration begins with a ringing call for Israel to “proudly insist on its Jewish identity and maintain a Jewish character for its public life e.g. proper respect for Shabbat and holidays; Kashrut in its public institutions….” So long as the Knesset cafeteria is kosher and closed on Shabbos, there’s no problem forcing religious Jews into an army where kashrus and Shabbos and the rest of halachah are at the commander’s whim. It was said of arch-liberal US Supreme Court justice William O. Douglas that “he loved humanity in general, but hated people in particular.” And this declaration, too, loves Judaism publicly, while crushing religious rights of individual Jews in particular.

The declaration is titled “Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State,” which calls to mind Meir Kahane’s critique of the Israeli declaration of independence as a “schizophrenic document.” It is a contradiction in terms, he would say, for a state to be simultaneously Jewish and democratic.

But when it comes to the draft, whether one views Israel as a Jewish state or a Western democratic one, the forcing of people into the army in violation of their conscience and Jewish beliefs is a moral outrage.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 679. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at kobre@mishpacha.com