Ultra Orthodox and Secular Israelis the IDF Draft, Well Being and Enhancing Israel

            August 2012    
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The Ultra Orthodox, Well Being and the Israeli Army Draft

By N. Shuldig

Sometimes we can find two news items that seem to cancel out each other. The following two items came to my attention this past week.

Item 1:

The fight between the secular Israelis and the ultra Orthodox regarding army service in Israel has heated up again. The seculars demand that the ultra Orthodox should serve in the IDF and participate in the compulsory draft just as the seculars and their children do. Why should the protection of the state be made mandatory only on one group and not on the other?

Item 2:

Interestingly enough another bit of news came to me in the form of a Gallup poll that was taken across a two year period in the USA to measure the well-being levels of various types of Americans. Amongst the questions asked by pollsters was one question to determine the religiousness of the respondent. They were asked if he/she was a) religious, b) not religious or c) somewhere in between. What exactly religious meant was left to the respondent to define for himself, but obviously in the most liberal of interpretations meaning that religion is very meaningful in the respondent's life.

The stunning results showed that Americans who considered themselves religious scored the highest of all categories. The religious Jews topped everyone in feeling well about themselves and their personal life with a score of 72.4 percent followed closely by Mormons with a well-being level of 71.5%. This showed that of all Americans, it is the religious who are most content and happy in their lives.

The only problem with these numbers is that of all the Mormons polled 73.4 percent of their members reported themselves as being religious while only 16.9% of the Jews who responded considered themselves religious. A full 53.5% of American Jews consider themselves not religious. The significance of these numbers is that a majority of American Jews who consider themselves Jewish also consider themselves not religious. These people, meaning not religious for the most part, share the lowest category of happiness and wellbeing in the survey.

Now let us go back to item one and put it together with item two. Although they seem like bits of random information that are passed off via the news media every day that have no plausible connection, there is much we can learn here. Let us look deeper into these two news items:

Secular Israelis are upset about the ultra-Orthodox who refuse to serve in the IDF. Of course this is exaggerated, (many ultra Orthodox do serve in the IDF) but there is some truth in it. Let us examine the situation deeper.

For many years, ever since the beginning of the state of Israel, when David Ben Gurion decided that he did not want the ultra-Orthodox in the army, the various governments have found it convenient to continue this policy. The reason was twofold: one, there were plenty of idealistic secular young men who were willing to fill the ranks, and two, the government did not want to deal with the needs of the religious ultra Orthodox soldiers: higher level of kashrut, separation of men and women soldiers, times for prayer services and learning, and strict Shabbat and Yom Tov observance. The ultra Orthodox, on their part, were delighted to be relieved of this mandatory service so they did not have to 'mix' with non-religious.

What has changed from 1948 that has brought this problem to the foreground of Israeli politics is that until now the army and government now want to draft the ultra Orthodox in the army?

Two things have changed: one, the non-religious Israel youth have lost the endearing ideal of serving in the IDF. Whereas once serving in the IDF was a badge of merit and courage, today, the secular Israeli youth have degenerated to being on the most part nothing more than personal-pleasure seeking youth, similar to the secular American counterpart who also do not want to join the army. No longer is serving with pride and courage the mark of the idealistic youth; just the opposite many secular youth look upon it as a waste of their time. Many Israeli youth want to enjoy life, to make money and to leave Israel, to live somewhere else or they seek personal pleasures, drugs, drinking and sex without the confines of marriage and good taste. Many secular boys and girls (like their religious conterparts) seek exemptions from the army; they see no personal advantage or purpose in serving. This population base which has been the man power base for the army is both reduced in number and in quality.

The second change is that the ultra Orthodox religious population has grown greatly in proportion to the general population. The religious men are still idealistic and love the land of Israel. But their love of Israel and the Zionist love of Israel is not the same. The Zionists loved the land of Israel because they saw that here they could be free Jews and have their own state and not be dependent upon the nations of the world - but their very liberal values and press have made them guilty about enjoying it. The ultra-Orthodox love it because it is 'Eretz HaKodesh' the holy land that G-d gave to us and they delight in being here.

The Orthodox claim that it is their learning Torah that keeps Israel safe and protects the inhabitants. The seculars say it is their army that keeps the citizens of Israel safe. Who is correct? Well obviously we need both G-d's grace and help plus plenty of ammunition.

The proposal that all ultra Orthodox go into the army is equal to requiring all seculars to spend time in Torah study. The truth is that we do need both since both will benefit; the seculars can benefit by learning traditional Jewish thought and customs and the secular country will benefit by increasing their personal well-being. In addition, the ultra Orthodox will bring the army up to standard and give the army dedicated man dependable man power.

But do not think that any one is capable of teaching Jewish subjects properly. What passes today as Jewish education in the secular Israeli schools is merely in name. Since neither the secular teacher nor the non religious parents have any real idea of what true Judaism is, and since their only claim to teaching it comes because they have a degree in education - all of this goes against the need for a Yeshiva educated man to teach in the secular schools Torah subjects properly.

If this is not done, the secular student will think he knows all about Torah since his 'teacher' (who knows little or nothing) taught him while he was in school. No, the answer lies in a compromise between the demands of the seculars and the foot dragging of the ultra-Orthodox.

In this manner both will benefit. The ultra-Orthodox will bring religious well-being values to the secular public and give the army moral and ethical man power. At the same time the ultra-Orthodox will gain a foot hold in the secular Israel work society too. It seems that this, if handled correctly, can lead to a win-win situation.


from the August 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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