Tzarich Iyun > “Seder Iyun”: Deliberations > In the Army Now? On Charedi Society and Military Service

In the Army Now? On Charedi Society and Military Service

Charedi society is paying a heavy price, both on moral and civic levels, for its avoidance of army service. It renders us a minority society, inherently unable to accept civic responsibility. When considering the question of military service we need to weigh the price we pay for non-service against the price we pay for service.

Tamuz 5781; June 2021

One Shabbos afternoon during Operation Guardian of the Walls (and shortly after the lethal rocket salvo towards the center of Israel), I met a friend in Bnei Brak, a Kollel student of some stature. Naturally, we spoke of the situation at home and abroad and of the Divine mercies protecting us from all troubles. “The greatest miracle in this campaign,” my friend remarked, “is that everyone, even the leftists, finally understands that we need to really give it to the Arabs.” Beholding my surprise at this militant statement, he explained further: “Up until now they stopped us every time, but now can go in full-force.” I began to voice my own opinion, explaining that “giving it to the Arabs” is not necessarily a prudent policy when I noticed the strange situation I was in. The talk we were having was typical of citizens embedded in the Israeli experience, an inseparable part of which is military service; but what do Bnei Brak Kollel students, for whom the draft office is at most a place to receive formal deferment documents, have to do with such conversations? Debates about “giving it” and not “giving it” and complaints about “stopping us before we got the job done” are appropriate for reservists on combat duty, waiting for their Order 8 to go into Gaza, but seem far less fitting for those who would never serve and even look askance (to say the least) on those Charedim who do enlist.

Debates about “giving it” and not “giving it” and complaints about “stopping us before we got the job done” are appropriate for reservists on combat duty, waiting for their Order 8 to go into Gaza, but seem far less fitting for those who would never serve and even look askance (to say the least) on those Charedim who do enlist

The tension between the deep sense of partnership and shared fate with the State and its challenges, typical of the common Charedi Jew, and the almost total non-participation in military service, is becoming even more palpable. I wanted to tell my Kollel friend: If you feel such deep ties with your Jewish brethren protecting the country, burning with desire for revenge when they are harmed, how do you explain your own aversion to army service? What of the argument the Torah itself makes: “Shall your brethren go to war while you stay here?”

My sense is that many of the arguments traditionally employed within Charedi society are no longer relevant. The extreme ideology that demonizes the Jewish State is not espoused by a great majority of Charedim, who feel a sense of shared fate with the rest of Israel. Rabbi Shmuel Pappenheim, former editor of HaEdah (the ideological mouthpiece for the extremist Charedi position) told me how a statement of MK Rabbi Avraham Ravitz z”l, then Chairman of the United Torah Judaism faction, sent his entire worldview into turmoil. Rabbi Pappenheim had been arguing with venom against the State’s rampant secularism, to which Rabbi Ravitz responded: “Okay, so let’s assume you’re right: What do you want? To return to the days of the British mandate? To bring back Ottoman rule?”

Even if we do not consider the State to be the beginning of our ultimate redemption, the question of how we live in it, enjoying its essential defense without bearing the burden, should make us all lose sleep—certainly in wartime. As somebody who served in the army, and given my close acquaintance with the issue of Charedi integration in the IDF (through involvement in the Shachar program), I would like to bring up some new thoughts on this sensitive issue.

My general point is that public discussion of this issue is not formulated correctly. We are used to considering the demand for military service as a secular grievance towards us: we weigh up the secular demand against the cost we will have required to pay and choose to summarily reject the idea. This is a mistaken approach. Charedi integration into the army is our own interest, rather than merely a response to secularist complaints. We are paying a heavy price for avoiding military service, and our discussion of military service must be framed internally: the price we pay by serving weighed against the price we pay by refraining from service.

The great challenge we face is our ability to teach our children to live a proper civilian life. The welcome growth in the Charedi population means we have civic responsibilities, whether we like it or not. The Meron disaster, just as the high level of corona infections, are painful reminders of our acute need for higher levels of civic engagement.

The path to citizenship in the State of Israel runs through military service. Moreover, I believe military service is a good and much safer path to proper citizenship than the path Charedi society is presently on—academia. Academia, the alternative institution through which Charedim are integrating into civilian life, is far more spiritually dangerous than the army. It is much harder for academia to adjust for the Charedi way of life, and the academic experience is more threatening for Charedim than military service.

But before I come to this, a few words on the traditional reasons for the Charedi rejection of military service.

 

Why Do Charedim Not Serve?

The principled justification that the “Yeshiva world” offers for refraining from military service is its devotion to Torah study. As the Mishnah in Avot teaches (3:5), anyone who accepts the yoke of Torah study is relieved of the burdens of everyday living. Torah scholars have cast off the many earthly accounts, devoting their lives to the worship of God, and this exempts them from participation in the duty of army service—just like the tribe of Levi, which did not join the army in battle. One of the explanations for this principled exemption of Torah students is that Torah study is the cause and justification for the State’s existence; Yeshiva students are thus the true “guardians of the walls,” and it would be plain stupid to remove them from the study halls and transfer them to the army.

Although this excuse sometimes feels insincere—the Charedi public avoids military service irrespective of Torah study—I think it is an honest and important argument. It relies, among other sources, on a Talmudic teaching that exempts Torah scholars from paying taxes for city defenses (building walls or hiring guards), since “Torah scholars do not require protection.” Rabbi Yochanan goes further and derives from a verse in Shir Hashirim that Torah scholars provide protection for the city (Bava Basra 7b), and the principle is accepted as normative Halacha by the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch. Active army duty prevents Yeshiva and Kollel students from striving for Torah excellence; based on the Talmud, this can involve an existential danger to the Jewish People in their land.

By contrast with the ideology that simply rejects the legitimacy of the Jewish State, a response that highlights the Torah contribution of Yeshiva students assumes that we all share the burden: whether by means of active duty or by dedication to Torah study, we do our part in protecting the Jewish settlement in the Holy Land. Yet, we must also be intellectually honest and concede that this not the main reason why Charedim do not enlist. Even those who are not diligent in their studies, and even those who leave Yeshiva for work or other purposes, will generally not enlist in the IDF. Neither will their Rabbis instruct them to do so. The attitude towards the IDF and to soldiers, especially Charedi soldiers, is indifferent at best and hostile at worst.

The real reason why Charedim do not enlist is the spiritual dangers involved in military service. The army’s “melting pot” policy was a secularizing force for many years, and until the hesder system was established (alongside pre-military academies) large percentages of religious-Zionist Jews abandoned religious observance during their military service

The real reason why Charedim do not enlist is the spiritual dangers involved in military service. The army’s “melting pot” policy was a secularizing force for many years, and until the hesder system was established (alongside pre-military academies) large percentages of religious-Zionist Jews abandoned religious observance during their military service. An acquaintance from the religious-Zionist community told me on authority that until the Mechinot were established, some 80% of religious Jews who enlisted outside of hesder programs dropped their Kippah over the course of their service. Even today, many become spiritually detached during army service, and fail to maintain the level of religiosity they were raised with.

Moreover, while religious-Zionist education is based on cultivating the religious wellbeing of the individual, Charedi education focuses on a community-centered life. Charedi society deals with secularization by means of strengthening the community, by means of the walls separating it from the outside world. In this respect, the army is an existential threat to Charedi separatism: The army and Charedi society have difficulty existing alongside each other. Even encounters with adherents of religious Zionism are perceived as a threat to the Charedi model. One Yeshiva student told me of an encounter with students from a leading religious-Zionist Yeshiva at a corona hotel unit. The encounter, in his words, brought many to ponder the best way to serve Hashem: “They were superior to us by any metric: resolution, profundity, persistence,” he confessed outright. “They organized study sessions while we organized social get-togethers.” The response of the Charedi establishment was of course to forbid entry to all corona hotels. Army participation, during which a Charedi individual inevitably encounters people from all layers of Israeli society, is not a challenge to be snuffed at.

But the discourse concerning the dangers of military service masks a very important point: the loss incurred by avoiding it. Make no mistake: there are risks in serving, but there are also great risks in not serving. Discussion of military service usually balances the demand for shared burdens and the spiritual dangers involved. I think this is mistaken. The moral demand for service needs to be balanced by the value of Torah study, and the spiritual dangers of service need to be balanced and weighed against the public dangers of refraining from it. I wish to focus on a simple and urgent matter: civics.

The army is the State of Israel’s School of Citizenship. This is where young people learn civic responsibility, the duty to the state, and the collective cost of neglect thereof. These lessons are acutely needed by the Charedi public. We certainly need at least partial integration of Charedim at all levels of state administration, from local government to employment and trade and all the way to the national level. Without significant military service, it will be very hard for Charedim to meet these goals.

Perhaps the dangers that Charedi men face in the army overshadow the virtues of army service. But even if this is the case, we must ensure that these factors are considered when we decide our path and pave it for our children. This is especially true for those who will not be spending their days and night in the Yeshiva study halls. It seems to me that if we seriously weigh the value and loss incurred by this Mitzvah, we will find that there is much to be done for the sake of enabling military service for Charedim.

Today, for most of the Charedi community, the very thought is akin to heresy; it is simply out of the question

Today, for most of the Charedi community, the very thought is akin to heresy; it is simply out of the question. Indeed, there is much more openness today towards getting a college education than military service. But this is absurd: academic studies are far more dangerous for our religious faith than military service, while they contribute far less to the needs of the Charedi public. How, then, does the former receive much more public legitimacy?

 

The Secret of Israel’s Success

The State of Israel likes to see itself as a “start-up nation” brimming with innovative and creative thinking. And it is. The data confirms its high ranking among developed countries in achievements and breakthroughs related to innovation, especially in the high-tech field. In fact, even if we play down the country’s claimed achievements, the very fact that Israel is counted among developed rather than developing countries is a miracle.

Israel is a young, inexperienced country. It was established in chaotic conditions, surrounded by enemies, and often isolated in the international arena. At the same time, it had to absorb insane rates of immigration, at a level unprecedented throughout the world. Established and developed countries have difficulty absorbing a small percentage of immigrants. Israel, by contrast, succeeded in absorbing immigration that doubled and even tripled its population while it was still in its infancy. This Aliyah succeeded despite a wholesale lack of training required to manage a developed country. Moreover, Israel was forced to fight repeated wars throughout. Despite this, and without natural resources, trade with its neighbors, a professional infrastructure, and the need to manage a war economy, Israel became an economically developed country.

We might think that Israel’s secret of success lies in its educational system, as is the case for other successful countries around the world such as Singapore or Finland. But PISA test results, measuring student achievements of OECD countries and predicting their ability to successfully integrate into the modern workforce, show just the opposite. Israel is uncomfortably low in the ranking, somewhere in the bottom third of developed countries; its students’ achievements are far lower than average. Thus, despite the State of Israel’s many successes, when it comes to education it is a glorious failure. We cannot attribute the country’s success to its schools.

It seems the country’s secret of success lies elsewhere. The institution that built the state and brought the country to where it is today is the IDF. Israeli success is not a function of the Jewish gene, as some romantics think, but draws rather on the education provided to Israeli youth as part of their military service

It seems the country’s secret of success lies elsewhere. The institution that built the state and brought the country to where it is today is the IDF. Israeli success is not a function of the Jewish gene, as some romantics think, but draws rather on the education provided to Israeli youth as part of their military service. In my view, this is the positive meaning of Ben Gurion’s “melting pot” policy. Ben Gurion sought to cultivate more than just a secular ethos among the populace; he wished to inculcate the nature of a state and the skills required for running it. He understood that immigrants from countless exiles lack the mentality and ability to run a country. In this sense, beyond the mission of protecting national borders, the IDF is an educational institution par excellence for civilian life.

The IDF trains its soldiers in proactiveness, dedication to the system, and diligence. As Hillel the Elder put it: “If I am not for myself, who is? And if I am for myself, who am I? And if not now – when? (Avos 4:14). These traits are not necessarily inborn, but they can be cultivated. As we will see below, the IDF is quite successful at doing so.

 

Soldiers’ Virtues

One virtue of the soldier is his proactive disposition. He tends to take responsibility, deal with problems on his own, and in general does not trust others to the job for him. “If I am not for myself, who is?” The virtue of taking responsibility rather than trusting others is valuable not only for commanders and officers but also for ordinary soldiers. Every soldier knows that a system in which everybody thinks “small” cannot match one in which people take collective responsibility. This trait is vital for the army, but also necessary for civilian life. Certainly for those who start off on a lower footing, working one’s way up by means of successful integration into the workforce requires a proactive mindset of taking responsibility.

Another virtue typical of army service is the ability and willingness to contribute more than one receives. This is considered to be a supreme value in the IDF, and is indeed appreciated and welcomed in every human society. As John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural speech: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Alongside the sense of responsibility deriving from “If I am not for myself, who is?” a person needs to feel that “when I am for myself, who am I?” We are all part of a greater whole and remember that we do not live just for ourselves alone.

For the healthy function of a state, the cultivation of civic virtues among citizens is essential. This mentality is different from the idea of mutual solidarity, a trait that is highly developed within our community. It involves a certain attitude towards an impersonal system, rather than concern for one’s neighbor or other individuals in the community. It is a concern for the community administration, the city, the state, the army, all of them systemic bodies rather than collections of individuals. For many, the system is conceived of as something to be milked, a place to go for stipends and permits. But no system can operate solely on this basis. To live in a developed country, citizens need to be equipped with a sense of service, of giving to the system. This mentality is not acquired in university or in prestigious administration programs, but rather by thorough and deep civic education.

The third trait is diligence, alongside an understanding that opportunities are not to be missed. At his famous Stanford speech, Steve Jobs said that he would ask himself every morning: “If this would be the last day of my life, would I do what I’m about to do today?” If the answer was negative for several days in a row, he understood that something needed to be changed. The diligent individual uses his strengths and develops them to the utmost. He does not change jobs each day and does not miss opportunities he encounters. He heeds Hillel’s challenge: “If not now, when?”

The IDF’s educational approach inculcates a person with these traits by means of hard work, group-mindedness (teamwork, mutual solidarity, unit pride, and so on), and expertise in an individual field. There is no doubt that the IDF is the largest training framework in Israel

The IDF’s educational approach inculcates a person with these traits by means of hard work, group-mindedness (teamwork, mutual solidarity, unit pride, and so on), and expertise in an individual field. There is no doubt that the IDF is the largest training framework in Israel. The IDF’s Computer Professional School is the most prestigious school for tech, providing skills in the shortest amount of time and with the greatest measure of success. However, other professions are also taught in a focused way: Professional skills are acquired in combat units, technical units, and other parts of the army. All the systems required for civilian life in the state are already present in the IDF, and very many in Israeli society start their professional path in military service.

Above all, officer training in the IDF is a springboard for management roles in civilian life; a young man learning to command an operational company in his early twenties acquires invaluable capabilities, required in every administrative system in civilian life, whether in the private or public sector. Many of the most successful people in all sectors of Israeli civilian society served in elite army units. It is the ideal training. Moreover, as I will now discuss, military education is part of the process of maturation that our community needs to undergo—a path already marked out by the Torah.

 

God’s Hosts

The word army (tzava) appears hundreds of times throughout the Bible, not always in a militaristic context. The educational content of the army, beyond its functional duty, is especially worthy of note. As Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch explains, an army is merely a mass of people; it becomes an army by virtue of the mind and will of its commander-in-chief: “The masses are the body of the commander, as they heed his mind and will.” An army is what makes a random grouping of people into an organized society. In other words, service in a military framework turns a human collective from a “public” into a “state.” So long as we are unaware of what it means to be an army, we remain a group of individuals; we might maintain complex relations of solidarity, but we are not part of a single body, a single system. Charedi society needs the systemic mindset, the tools, and the abilities that army service provides.

So long as we are unaware of what it means to be an army, we remain a group of individuals; we might maintain complex relations of solidarity, but we are not part of a single body, a single system. Charedi society needs the systemic mindset, the tools, and the abilities that army service provides

We are all, Rav Hirsch continues to explain, in military service. We must all fulfill our roles, “each in their place, each with the powers bestowed upon them.” We require “greatness, heroism, wisdom, will, and commandment”; we need “discipline, caution, and loyalty.” Even the smallest act gains significance because it is fulfilled in faithful observance of the Great Commander. All the traits of military education noted above appear in Rav Hirsch’s words: the individual’s awareness that he is part of a system, but one in which he plays a unique role out of a sense of personal responsibility.

Elsewhere, Rav Hirsch dwells explicitly on the educational role of military service. Of the wars of Avraham with the four kings, the Torah says: “And Avram heard that his brother was taken captive, and he emptied his proteges, the children of his household, whom he counted, ten and three hundred and he pursued them to Dan” (Bereishis 14:14). On the expression “he emptied,” ostensibly describing the enlistment of Avraham’s household for war, Rav Hirsch explains that Avram “emptied his proteges from the circle they were in, meaning the isolation they were in.”

Avraham Avinu’s disciples were in a state of isolation, which allowed them to prosper and develop despite the corruption that surrounded them. Finally, however, Avraham “emptied his proteges,” “pouring” them from his house. The family of Avraham, initially mocked by Lot and the people of Sodom for their isolation, were now enlisted to save them. The point I wish to accentuate is that following the stage of isolation must come the phase of emptying out “stored treasures” into the public sphere. It would seem to me that the Charedi community has reached the point where he must move from tutelage to action.

A dear man who works in assisting Charedim to integrate into the Israeli workforce made a statement that ran along the following lines: “How can one worship of God without knowing what work is, what a person is required to do as a worker, what a boss is, and what employer-employee relations are?” In the same vein, I might add: How can one be a soldier in God’s army without knowing what an army is, what a commander is, what a chain of command is, and, most importantly, what “we will do and we will hear” means?

 

The Cost and Benefit of a Mitzvah

As I noted at the outset, I do not mean to claim that drafting Charedim is possible and beneficial at the present time. The spiritual dangers latent in most IDF service tracks are serious, and we can certainly understand those who fear for their children’s Halachic observance. However, it is very important that the arguments raised above become part of our calculus. If we understand that military service is not merely a means of appeasing secularist demands but rather serves an internal need of our own, our attitude will change, as will our internal motivation to find solutions to the spiritual challenges of army service.

A decade ago, the IDF’s senior manpower brass, headed by the head of the Manpower Branch, Major General Zamir, arrived at the residence of the Belzer Rebbe for a talk on Charedi service tracks. The Rebbe started by saying: “The IDF has moved away from the Charedim more than the Charedim have moved away from the IDF.” He was referring to the secular character of the IDF and its permissive atmosphere. The firestorm created by Major General Winter’s famous letter, penned during Operation Protective Edge, indicates that there is some truth in the statement. Zamir’s response was telling: “Then let the Charedim come and fix things up.”

Several programs and frameworks have been established “to fix things us,” seeking to integrate Charedi individuals into special units adapted for a Torah lifestyle and worldview. These include combat service frameworks, the flagship of which is the Netzach Yehudah battalion in the Kfir brigade, alongside Shachar [Charedi Integration] frameworks that place Charedim in the IDF’s technological units, which offers recruits professional training as part of their service. Though the entry of Charedi individuals into units often happens for personal reasons, whether in search for a career (in the Shachar units) or because of dropping out of Yeshiva frameworks (common for Netzach Yehudah), they ultimately develop civic awareness and responsibility.

One soldier, a Chassid of Sert Vizhnitz enlisted in the Air Force, was responsible for computer maintenance at the Ramat David base. He discovered a repeating malfunction in many computers due to a flaw in a particular chip and proposed to his superiors to conduct periodic reviews to change the chip once a year for all the base computers. This small repair extended the life of hundreds of computers for years and saved the system hundreds of thousands of shekels. For this initiative, he received the Air Force Prize and his work was celebrated. This is an example of a small action combining the virtues listed above.

Another anecdote that was well-publicized related to the first Charedi individual to graduate the engineer’s course of Israel’s Air Force, whom I had the pleasure of knowing. A talented young man, he moved up the ranks for several years, reaching a professional level that allowed him to earn far more in the private sector than he made in the military. Nonetheless, he chose to stay in the army and contribute to the state—out of a sense of gratitude. A few years ago, he was appointed project manager at the rank of Major, responsible for the computing systems of the F-35, the most advanced plane on earth. And there are hundreds of smaller stories. I meet such discharged soldiers in Charedi neighborhoods and cities, inseparable parts of the communities, some of them serving in senior public offices. Service in the army did not weaken them spiritually; on the contrary, some of them emerged stronger.

Unfortunately, enlistment into the Shachar track has decreased. The negative media attention around such events as the court striking down the Tal Law and Israel’s political upheavals turned Charedim into an easy target for populist rhetoric, exploited for the cynical purposes of garnering votes and public support. The losers were both the Charedim and the State of Israel.

The combat track, meanwhile—the Netzach Yehuda battalion of the Kfir brigade (or “Nachal Charedi”)—has continued to operate throughout, and similar units have been established in the Givati, Paratroopers, and other brigades. However, it does not currently provide an option for Yeshiva students. Many of its recruits arrive via a complex route and after challenging experiences. Though graduates of the Charedi school system, by the time they reach the army they are often embittered and their religious level far from the Yeshiva standard. Under such circumstances, the army, in cooperation with the Netzach Yehuda organization, provides a viable framework in which young men become far more functional and productive, and even more observant and connected with their Judaism. Though it provides an excellent environment for this type of Charedi young man, it is hardly appropriate for your classic Yeshiva student—even one who is not fulfilling his promise.

[D]espite ongoing efforts to ensure proper conditions for absorbing Charedim into the IDF, the situation today is far from satisfactory. The distance between the IDF and Charedim remains great, and political conditions make things hard to move. Yet, there remains great potential for change

In sum, despite ongoing efforts to ensure proper conditions for absorbing Charedim into the IDF, the situation today is far from satisfactory. The distance between the IDF and Charedim remains great, and political conditions make things hard to move. Yet, there remains great potential for change.  Of the various social institutions that raise questions of Charedi integration, including the civil service and academia, the IDF is the most flexible. If we wish to integrate into civilian life, the IDF is the place to start.

 

“Let the Charedim Come and Fix It”

I mentioned above Major General Zamir’s response to the Belzer Rebbe: “Let the Charedim come and fix it.” His answer reflects the spirit of the IDF command structure. The army is not a dogmatic institution. It is truly open to changes and adjustments. The approach of the IDF is operational and aimed at applied solutions. It is interested in operational goals, not ideology. A decade ago, after the government made Charedi integration into the IDF a priority, the army high command was ready and willing to make the required adjustments. When political winds began to blow in a different direction and given increasing Charedi opposition, the IDF pulled back.

The army is “hyperdynamic.” Officers and commanders hold their posts and positions for 2-3 years at most, and everything is up for reconsideration. The army’s policy can change at any given moment, for better or for worse. The IDF does not set policy; it is an executive body that executes the decisions of the political leadership. On the one hand, this is a deficiency on the part of the army, which adapts itself to any order it receives; when a parent sends their child to the army, they need to always keep a tab. We cannot trust the idea that “Every Hebrew mother should know [that the army will take care of her sons],” and certainly not when it comes to soldiers’ emotional needs.

Academia believes its role is to educate Charedim on how to integrate into society. It is not willing to allow them to integrate into Israeli society on their own terms, seeking instead to coerce them through the procrustean ideological bed of secular society. The army, by contrast, does not consider itself to be an institution aimed at advancing a particular ideology. It is much more flexible and pragmatic in character

That being said, the IDF’s dynamism allowed it to make the changes needed to bring in Charedim. Suffice to compare the holy war waged by Israeli academia against adjusting itself for Charedim (allowing separation between the genders) to the enormous efforts the army made in the same direction. Academia believes its role is to educate Charedim on how to integrate into society. It is not willing to allow them to integrate into Israeli society on their own terms, seeking instead to coerce them through the procrustean ideological bed of secular society. The army, by contrast, does not consider itself to be an institution aimed at advancing a particular ideology. It is much more flexible and pragmatic in character.

Absurdly enough, those same parties fighting to integrate Charedim into secular academia are preventing Charedi integration into the army. During discussions about Shachar programs, committees dealing with the issue consulted with the Gender Affair Advisor to the Chief of Staff. She strongly opposed any special adjustments for Charedim, on grounds very similar to those deployed by Professor Orna Kupferman (of Hebrew University) in her strident opposition to separate-sex campuses for Charedim. But unlike academia, which considers itself a secular educational institution, the army is mission-oriented. For this reason, the Gender Affairs Adviser’s position was rejected and the army made the necessary adjustments for Charedim.

In terms of spiritual dangers, my impression is that the spiritual weakening that takes place in academia far exceeds that of the army. Many Charedim serving in the IDF come out at a higher level than the one they entered with. Today, many of those enlisting as Charedim were already in the process of dropping out—this is certainly true of the Netzach Yehuda options—and the army guides them toward a stable life path, imbuing them with moral commitments and preserving their connection to Torah and Judaism. By contrast, I have not yet heard of anyone who came out of academia stronger in their faith than when they entered.

To summarize, Charedi service in the IDF is tremendously significant on both moral and existential grounds. For the IDF, there seems to be a readiness to allow Charedim to integrate; among the various paths to full civic life, the IDF is doubtless the most flexible. It seems to me that the ball is largely in our court now. If we understand that we must be more present in the army, there is a fair chance for changing the sad state of affairs the Belzer Rebbe described. For this to happen, we need to understand that we need the army as much and perhaps more than it needs us. This is the only way we can make it into the system in its entirety, fix what needs to be fixed, and ensure we do not fail in our efforts.

One thought on “In the Army Now? On Charedi Society and Military Service

  • I disagree completely with your essay. One section: “By contrast, I have not yet heard of anyone who came out of academia stronger in their faith than when they entered.” is particularly bothersome. Clearly, exposure to ideas can be jarring. But I maintain that one who maintains an halakhic lifestyle, after such exposure, has deepened his hashkafic viewpoint. Being unaware of challenges does not make one’s faith greater; in fact, I believe quite the opposite to be true.

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