Confessions of a haredi dad
by Jonathan Rosenblum
December 11, 1998
Even before the High Court issued its landmark edict overturning the draft deferment of yeshiva students, the issue of the army was very much on my mind. My oldest son turned 18 this week, and he is not beginning army service.
A good part of my late teens was spent fretting about the fact that other Jewish boys my age, halfway around the globe, were making the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of their country. And this week, I had the same kind of guilt feelings vis-a-vis all the parents who give a little start every time the phone rings during the three years of their sons' army service, and, in particular, those whose children give their lives protecting this country.
Would I feel embarrassed to face those parents? Yes I would. Just as, I suppose, would the 80 percent of parents whose sons do not serve in combat units.
But my own guilt feelings about not sharing the same experience as others do not lessen my pride in my son one iota. Not for a moment do I consider him a shirker. Applied to a boy who learns virtually without break from 7 a.m. to midnight, the image is laughable.
In some sense, I'm like the father whose son sits manning a Patriot missile battery. He knows his son is performing a vital function on behalf of millions of Jews, even though he is not exposed to the daily threat to life faced by soldiers in Lebanon.
Similarly, I know that my son is performing a vital service in the protection of the Jewish people and the preservation of our unique heritage.
No other nation that entered world history together with the Jewish people still exists, its identity intact, despite having been removed from our land for most of our history. That existence is inexplicable apart from divine protection, and our people has always lived with the belief that nothing wins God's favor more than dedication to the study of Torah.
I do not expect to convince those who no longer share those beliefs, but neither do I apologize for them. Haredim do not claim that mitzva observance confers some right of exemption from national service or even from physical danger, but rather that those learning full-time are performing a crucial security function.
For haredi boys who cannot or do not wish to learn full-time in yeshiva, a suitable framework must be found within the army or national service. And those who have completed their years of full-time learning should do basic training and reserve duty like everyone else. (So Rabbi Eliezer Schach explicitly told me.)
But haredi parents will not blithely send their sons into a situation that threatens them with spiritual destruction, nor will they place them under the control of those motivated by an animus to the haredi way of life.
Those calling most vociferously for the draft of all yeshiva students seem driven more by an eagerness to get them out of the yeshivot than by a desire to get them into the army. Did any of the petitioners to the High Court, for instance, challenge the blanket exemptions from any form of national service for Arab citizens?
No one suggests that drafting thousands of haredi 18- year-olds will improve the defense capacity of the IDF, and the army has consistently said that it has no desire to accommodate their special needs. In the decade from 1986 to 1996, manpower costs in the army soared from 27 percent to 48 percent of the defense budget, and the percentage of the budget available for acquisitions and training declined proportionally.
According to Bar-Ilan University researcher Stuart Cohen, 'grey employment' is already rampant in the army, with far too many draftees performing useless administrative tasks. A large-scale draft of haredim will only exacerbate the lack of funding for procurement and the proliferation of useless tasks.
MK Ran Cohen (Meretz) and his cohorts acknowledge all this. But they would still prefer to force yeshiva students into the army, where they can, in the words of an old Davar editorial, 'tell them to stuff their tzitzit into their pants or pull their peyot a bit,' or else have them painting garbage cans, rather than learning in yeshivot.
Ultimately, the goal is the socialization of the haredim. The citizens' army envisioned by David Ben-Gurion was explicitly designed as the most potent instrument for the creation of a homogeneous national culture. And we are still paying the price for the destruction of the culture of Jews from Arab lands by the cultural hegemonists of the 1950s.
Haredim have no desire to be the latest victims of attempts to impose a uniform national culture or to have their children socialized into today's cultural norms. Many of the values that increasingly define Israeli culture, including its materialism, skepticism, and emphasis on individual rights and pleasure-seeking, are antithetical to the values of haredi society.
After guarding their children's souls like a Ming vase for 18 years, haredi parents cannot be expected to expose them at the most vulnerable stage in their lives to an environment of casual sexual mixing and standards of modesty so at odds with their own. To do so would place them in the position of the king, in Rashi's homely metaphor, who gets his son drunk, places a bag of gold coins around his neck, and deposits him in front of a house of ill-repute.
Finally, haredi parents are rightfully terrified of turning their children over to the control of those who hate them and everything they stand for. The visceral hatred and venom to which haredim are subjected hour after hour, day after day, in the media goes far beyond anything haredim do or don't do; it derives from a total contempt for who they are.
No parents would turn their children over to the authority of those who hate them and seek to uproot their values. Convincing haredi parents that they will not be doing so by sending their children to the army will require much good will and effort.
Related Topics: Israeli Society
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