Rabbi Yisrael Hofrichter’s lead article calls for encouraging Charedim to enlist in the IDF, on the grounds that Charedim need the IDF even more than the IDF needs Charedim. Charedi society, he reasons, pays a cost when its sons dodge the draft, and awareness of this cost would drive work the leadership to build a suitable military framework. Nonetheless, and with good reason, Rabbi Hofrichter refrains from arriving at unequivocal conclusions. His caution is not due solely to the sensitivity of the subject to Charedi ears but also draws from an appreciation of the gravity of the subject, and the fact that conclusions need to be based on a slow and careful discussion of multiple details by those most qualified to engage them.
Notwithstanding his cautionary note, it seems to me that Hofrichter’s article is injudicious in its claims while exaggerating the benefit of the military and minimizing its dangers
Notwithstanding his cautionary note, it seems to me that Hofrichter’s article is injudicious in its claims while exaggerating the benefit of the military and minimizing its dangers. Rabbi Hofrichter exaggerates the costs Charedim pay for not serving and overstates the advantages of military education.
But even if his claims are just and Charedim do require the kind of education provided army service, is it conceivable that the army, an unabashedly secular institution, should be the educator of future Charedi generations? Education stands at the central core of Charedi Judaism. With all respect to the costs of not sending Charedi boys into the army, the educational cost of sending them far exceeds them. Doing so, for the present, is simply inconceivable.
Don’t Touch Education
First, I wish to set aside the common but flawed argument often employed in rejecting Charedi enlistment in the IDF, namely, that Charedim do not enlist because they provide Israel with an alternative form of protection—the protection of Torah study. As Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer notes in his response article, King David was presumably aware of the protective virtue of Torah study, but this did not prevent him from maintaining an actual army. On every other matter under the sun, it is clear to all that we must seriously navigate the material world rather than rely on miracles, and the military is surely no exception. The Jewish People were not created to be detached from the world, but rather to elevate and sanctify it through following the path of the Torah, alongside the firm knowledge that we do not rely merely on our might and the strength of our hands. If God does not protect a city, it will fall, guards or not.
This argument, and others like it, are a distraction. They are sometimes deceptive to the secular ear and seek to lessen hostility—generally without much success—towards Charedim as a “parasite-dropout” society. The arguments are hardly sounded internally. The truth is that Charedim do not enlist without any connection to Torah study. A Charedi individual refrains from army service simply because he is Charedi—and Charedim, qua Charedim, are unwilling to outsource their education to the army.
The truth is that Charedim do not enlist without any connection to Torah study. A Charedi individual refrains from army service simply because he is Charedi—and Charedim, qua Charedim, are unwilling to outsource their education to the army
In the past, before the ages of modernity and enlightenment, the education of young men ended early and abruptly. Anyone not but out for the rabbinate was slated to help the family business at home or in the field. After the advent of European enlightenment and rampant secularism, Orthodox (or Charedi) society understood that youth cannot be allowed to leave to work in the village or city, and educational institutions started to become the norm—a norm that was solidified and consolidated in the State of Israel.
The Yeshiva institution has long been termed “Noah’s Ark”—an expression culled by (among others) the Nesivos Shalom, who was sharply aware of the need to protect young men from exposure to the (spiritual) elements. This is not to say that Yeshiva educators do not seek to teach and train students in the intricacies of Talmudic studies, yet alongside study, the purpose of Yeshiva is to keep students out of harm’s way. This purpose has several ramifications, the most significant of which is that every young man, regardless of talent, must find a place of refuge; aside from those somehow lost to the system (“dropout youth”), there are no exceptions.
The IDF, as Rabbi Hofrichter rightly pointed out, is an educational institution; it has its own methods, attitudes (which sometimes shift with the times), and pedagogical principles. It is a non-Charedi educational institution, subject to a broad range of influences, from the government and the Chief of staff to the Educational Corps and the Gender Affair Advisor to the Chief of Staff. Bottom line, the IDF is a secular educational institution. A Charedi individual, whose principal concern is that his children should be raised with the values of Torah and Mitzvos, is thus entirely justified in rejecting army service. From his perspective, the very notion of army service is absurd, unacceptable.
A Charedi parent would never send his child to institutions of such faraway groups; and if this is the case for different Charedi sub-communities, it is all the truer for those outside Charedi society—and certainly for the IDF
Every sub-community in Charedi society has its own educational institutions. These include Yeshiva institutions of Ger Chassidim, “Tomchei Temimim” for Chabad, Slonim’s Beit Avraham, Lithuanian institutions with a range of specific styles and emphases, and so on. Why such a range? The answer is that each community wishes to imbibe its youth with an education replete with values, goals, and a coherent worldview. Vizhnitz is not Belz, and Lithuanians are neither—not to mention such far reaches as Chabad and Breslov. A Charedi parent would never send his child to institutions of such faraway groups; and if this is the case for different Charedi sub-communities, it is all the truer for those outside Charedi society—and certainly for the IDF.
Aside from its educational orientation, the IDF also serves as fertile ground for different parts of Israeli society to get to know each other, to mix, and to merge. While the aggressive melting-pot ideology of Israel’s earlier days has become less dominant, that is not to say that it is no longer extant. The values of camaraderie, fraternity, and unity are themselves a danger to Charedi society and the reason why it refrains from any kind of army service. Hofrichter notes that Charedi recruits were religiously strengthened by their army service. I can only assume that this is because their entry-level was such that could only go up. Other than such Charedi soldiers, it comes as little surprise that Charedim who consider enlistment (for themselves and their children) are few and far between.
Rabbi Hofrichter makes a point of comparing academia to the army, claiming that if academic studies received at least partial support among Charedim, then this should certainly be the case with the army. Yet, there is a very significant difference between the two: the age difference.
The sharp transition from the “Noah’s ark” of the Yeshiva to the responsibility of marriage ensures that community values will not be compromised by the period of young bachelorship that threatens to undermine the benefits of education systems everywhere
Part of the sophistication of Charedi education for men is its hard-wired finishing point. A Charedi student’s Yeshiva education reaches an abrupt end with his marriage. The Charedi educational system thus technically “closes off” the student and assigns him responsibility towards others: his wife and children. Some see this in a negative light—a young adult is thrown into the deep end of the pool with little preparation—but I believe it has much that is positive. The sharp transition from the “Noah’s ark” of the Yeshiva to the responsibility of marriage ensures that community values will not be compromised by the period of young bachelorship that threatens to undermine the benefits of education systems everywhere. A society that believes in its own values will do everything to prevent them from being compromised, and the transfer from Yeshiva to marriage is an effective mechanism for value preservation.
There is thus a critical difference between the age and family status of a Charedi man enrolled in academia and the enlistment of Charedim at drafting age into the IDF. Charedim generally enroll in academic institutions as mature, married men in their mid-to-late twenties, belonging to an organic Charedi community that provides them with a spiritual anchor. Things are very different when it comes to single men and Yeshiva students, for whom the challenges of academia and service in the IDF are, indeed, comparable—though military service remains, in my opinion, the more hazardous of the two, due to the hierarchy between commander and subordinate, which can lead to a coerced agreement of the subordinate soldier with his commanders.
Today, Charedi tracks in the IDF are divided into two: Shachar tracks that appeal to married men and amount to professional training for Charedim, and combat tracks whose participants are usually Charedim who lost to mainstream institutions, who require significant rehabilitation from a religious perspective. In short, as Avishai Ben Haim put it bluntly, “If you see a Charedi man service in the IDF, he’s either not Charedi or it’s not the army.”
A Springboard to Citizenship?
The main claim laid down by the lead article is that the IDF forms the foundation for the State of Israel’s material success. I believe this claim to be insufficiently supported. The article presents no evidence or data to a correlation between army service and economic flourishing, which of course makes the claims difficult to address. It remains hypothesis.
If enlisting in the IDF is required to acquire such basic skills as the article notes, then Charedi education is seemingly bankrupt. But the solution, surely, is to correct, improve, and better adapting it to the challenges of our time, and not by sending its students to secular educational institutions
The author goes on to describe the harm caused by Charedim opting out of army service, listing a range of virtues that they are thus denied: proactiveness, public responsibility, and diligence. The author claims that army service provides these traits through three pedagogical principles: hard work, teaching a group mindset, and providing personal expertise. Yet, it seems the author is ignoring the substantial contribution made by Charedim relative to others, especially in areas of charitable and voluntary activity (think of Hatzalah, ZAKA, Ezer Mitziyon, Ezra Lamarpe, Yad Eliezer, and many beyond). He also ignores the thousands of Yeshiva students who are diligent in their studies and are constantly engaged in study, prayer, and worship of God. If enlisting in the IDF is required to acquire such basic skills as the article notes, then Charedi education is seemingly bankrupt. But the solution, surely, is to correct, improve, and better adapting it to the challenges of our time, and not by sending its students to secular educational institutions.
It seems to me that the truth is rather far from the claims that Hofrichter makes. First, is the benefit of army service really so crucial? Has anybody proposed that Charedim around the world enlist in their respective national armies to acquire these wonderful skills via military education? Hofrichter is strident in asserting that the State of Israel’s economic success is not due to the “Jewish gene,” but rather to service in the IDF service—but is this also the reason for the disproportionate success of Jews in the US and around the world? And second, are the internal benefits of Charedi education so negligible, so that we ought to risk undermining them via entry into the IDF? I think such an approach is foolhardy at best.
It may well be that Charedim ought to be in the army; I have no special response to the sources quoted in the piece. However, Charedim can only serve in a Charedi Army, not in a non-Charedi one
It may well be that Charedim ought to be in the army; I have no special response to the sources quoted in the piece. However, Charedim can only serve in a Charedi Army, not in a non-Charedi one. The common quote of Moshe Rabbeinu’s call to Gad, Reuven, and half of Menasheh—“Can your brothers go to war while you sit here?”—related to an army of brothers fighting under Yehoshua’s command. Yehoshua, not Ashkenazi, Ganz, or Aviv Kochavi.
Our Country. Our State?
I have mentioned, in passing, the moral aspect of Charedi draft-dodging—an issue taken up in earnest in Rabbi Pfeffer’s article. This is not the main point of this article, and I will not address the many points worth discussing, but it is worth dwelling briefly on the subject.
Charedim live in the Land of Israel, on whose historic territory a secular state with secular bodies and institutions was established. The moment the State of Israel did not aim to be the State of traditional Judaism but rather the State of the “New Jew,” though forced to demonstrate a degree of tolerance for the “Old Jew,” the traditionalist bearing the torch of Torah education could but fight for his rights.
The present author’s family has lived in the Land of Israel for 180 years. The grandson of the first immigrant who arrived here from Berdichev is buried on Mount Meron, where he was killed in a porch collapse in 1931. Charedim live in the Land of Israel by virtue of the land and not the state. Does the fact that some of our nation established a secular state in the Land of Israel mean we have a moral duty to solve its security problems? I am not claiming that the security issues are “theirs” and not “ours”—we all need security—but we see ourselves as distinct from the state, and do not wish to participate in its apparatus.
State education is not ours; state values are not ours; state aims are not ours. […] [W]e cannot take part in the central educational institution of the secular state or hand our young members over to its educational responsibility
The aims of the State of Israel, with all due respect, are different from ours. This is where it all starts. The front pages of Charedi newspapers were, of course, celebratory when the state was founded, but over time the celebrations died down in recognition that this is not what we wanted. This is the reason why Charedim are so cautious of getting involved in state institutions, especially educational ones. State education is not ours; state values are not ours; state aims are not ours. Basic needs, physical, mental, and spiritual, form a common denominator that Charedim can cooperate with via the national legislature and local authorities. But we cannot take part in the central educational institution of the secular state or hand our young members over to its educational responsibility.
If the IDF subjected itself to the Torah of Israel and its rabbinic leadership, we could certainly consider sharing the burden. Presently this would seem to decide the matter. Maybe a dramatic change in the demographic balance between Charedim and non-Charedim will also lead to a fundamental change in the state and its institutions, and to the Charedi attitude to the draft. Right now, and given that the IDF is a people’s army, its educational aspiration and reality are all too prominent.
It could be that the author is right that in the price we pay for not enlisting in the IDF. Rabbi Pfeffer might also be right about the moral cost. But the price we will pay for sending our young men into the IDF is much, much higher, and these are costs of identity and essence. To paraphrase Mr. Ben Haim, for a change to occur, one of the two needs to happen—either Charedim decide they no longer wish to be Charedim, or the army no longer wishes to be the people’s army of the secular State of Israel. These two scenarios, it goes without saying, are equally imaginary.