Now It’s Brotherhood’s Turn

Legitimate calls for Charedi enlistment in the IDF will be more worthy and effective when founded on brotherhood rather than equality.

Adar 5784 / February 2024

No less than four policy drafts for recruiting Charedim, some longer and some short and terse, arrived on my desk this week, all signed by senior and central figures in Israeli society and its security mechanisms. These documents have surfaced against the backdrop of huge media attention that has recently been directed at the issue of Charedi army service.

Due to the ongoing war effort and the hugely increased need for boots on the ground, on February 8th, the IDF unveiled a plan to increase the amount of time conscripts and reservists serve in the military. This plan, which directly affects hundreds of thousands of Israelis while making no mention of potential Charedi conscripts, generated fierce backlash from across the social and political spectrum, with many calling to end Charedi exemptions to make up manpower shortages.

Many have not minced their words in renewing calls for Charedi service. “The thought that young people will extend their service for three years, while their peers will not serve a single day, in military or civilian service, is intolerable,” wrote Minister Chili Tropper of the National Unity party, which joined Israel’s government after the outbreak of war. More dedicated coalition members were also quick to join the fray.

Virtually every encounter I have with a non-Charedi person begins these days with the pained question, “What’s going to be?” The question hangs in the air. Nothing more needs to be said

Diaspora Minister Amichai Chikli (Likud) stated that the status quo “cannot continue.” MK Moshe Saada (Likud) likewise called for drafting a new social contract in which “additional sectors put their shoulder to the wheel” instead of “placing the security burden on a small percentage of the population.” Even MK Tally Gotliv, who enjoys a close relationship with Charedi society, called for scrapping the service extension proposal, arguing that “everyone is equal in carrying the burden.”

Virtually every encounter I have with a non-Charedi person begins these days with the pained question, “What’s going to be?” The question hangs in the air. Nothing more needs to be said. The Charedi political machinery is occupied with totally different “calls to the flag” – a remarkably poor choice of campaign message ahead of the municipal elections in Bnei Brak – while the rest of Israel awaits some acts of motion and responsibility.

What can make an impact on this most thorny of issues? How can we move forward?


New Calls for Charedi Recruitment

I wish to suggest a response to the matter – one angle out of several, but one deserves to be raised and emphasized – which somewhat modifies the call for Charedi recruitment.

For the past few decades, leading voices of the campaign to recruit Charedi society have been secular Jews belonging (for the most part) to the Israeli left. Today, the call is being voiced predominantly by the religious right, which has played an outsized role in the present war and paid a high price for its remarkable commitment.

We need to wait patiently, but to our great frustration, we have neither patience nor time

Makor Rishon, Israel’s leading religious-Zionist publication, has embarked on a writing project on Charedi recruitment, and many of its leading authors and public intellectuals have weighed in on the debate. Rabbi Chaim Navon (23 February 2024), who argued that “we need to wait patiently, but to our great frustration, we have neither patience nor time,” is the latest among them. This change might herald a new type of call for recruitment – and elicit a different kind of reply.

An open letter, penned by Dr. Tehilla Elitzur, was recently addressed by religious Zionist mothers to their Charedi counterparts. The letter, signed by over 800 women (and counting), begs Charedi women to send their sons to the army.

The chances of the letter influencing the enlistment numbers are low. First, it will not reach the great majority of the target audience. Second, it is hard to expect a Charedi woman, who grew up in an altogether different environment and whose son’s enlistment has never occurred to her, to encourage his army service. Yet, I wish to emphasize the letter’s style, which is no less important than its content.

The most frequently used expression in the context of the Charedi recruitment issue (in its many incarnations), shivyon banettel (“equality in the burden”), makes no appearance in the letter. Nor do the individual words – neither “equality” nor “burden.” Instead of equality and its semantic field, the letter speaks the language of brotherhood:

We know that many of you have shared in our grief and bereavement over the fallen over the years, and especially in the harsh times since Simchat Torah. In the last two months, we have experienced the assistance and solidarity of Charedi women in a variety of ways to help families of evacuees and fallen soldiers. We know that many are praying for the welfare of the soldiers, the healing of the wounded, and the return of hostages.

We are also aware that you, like the whole of Charedi, attach prime importance to Torah study and see it as a supreme value and even a safeguard of the Jewish people. But none of these can replace enlisting in the IDF. This is the Jewish, moral, and civil duty of anyone who wishes to live here. The absence of that standard constitutes a distinction between blood and blood. This reality is no longer tenable. […]

Throughout the generations, women in Israel have known how to act with courage and sacrifice, where Gedolim and leaders failed. We believe that here, too, the correction can begin with the wives and mothers of Israel.

Our request to you is unbearably difficult, but there is nothing more justified and moral, since each of us carries this difficulty from the day their child is born. We call on you to take the lead on these necessary steps, to fulfill with us all the imperatives of “You shall not stand by your neighbor’s blood” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Call on your sons to enlist in the IDF.

The letter is not alone. Many of those raising the issue of Charedi conscription today, and especially the religious-Zionist sector that has been so prominent on our front lines, tend to speak in the language of Jewish brotherhood rather than a language of liberal-legal equality. This makes a substantial difference.


Between Equality and Brotherhood

The argument on behalf of equality is limited, in my opinion, in its effectiveness. Inequality may infuriate us, but it fails to inspire. No one gets up in the morning with a deep-seated desire to uphold the value of equality. Moreover, absent the type of coercion typical of totalitarian regimes, we will never reach full equality. It is simply impossible.

Charedi apologists often used to rebut the equality claim with countless other examples of inequality. Service in the Hesder framework (religious Zionist Yeshivot) is not equal to regular army service, and many soldiers will never see a day of combat in their lives. True, such phenomena are hardly parallel to entirely evading army duty – unfortunately not uncommon among additional sectors in Israel, too – but they take the sting out of the claim.

In contrast, the claim of Jewish brotherhood can go much further. Love and brotherhood are the great motivators of human action: “Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the rivers drown it” (Shir Hashirim 7:8). We wake up in the morning for love and brotherhood. In addition, it is difficult to refute the claim of brotherhood: it is an absolute religious and human value. We all know it.

In his presentation of the legal standard for interpersonal relations, former president of Israel’s Supreme Court Aharon Barak stated that “person to person – wolf” is socially intolerable, but neither should a society strive for a utopian standard of “person to person – angel.” The golden mean is a human standard: “person to person – person.” Yet, the Torah is not unsatisfied with this and demands a higher standard: “person to person – brother.” As the Torah notes in countless places, we are all brothers.

Brotherhood among the Jewish people is the reason why hundreds (close to 800 and counting) of Charedim recently mobilized as part of the IDF’s Stage II program for older recruits. […] It even allows for a new type of Charedi response to the call of army duty.

Brotherhood among the Jewish people is the reason why hundreds (close to 800 and counting) of Charedim recently mobilized as part of the IDF’s Stage II program for older recruits. It also stands at the root of the extensive voluntary activity that many Charedim have embarked upon during the current campaign: transporting the wounded, providing food and equipment, attending at funerals and Shiva calls, hosting special prayers, and so on.

It even allows for a new type of Charedi response to the call of army duty.


New Demands and New Responses

The demand for equality is absolute, binary. Brotherhood, however, allows for complexity and flexibility. It denies absolutes. Within the brotherhood framework, the proposal, for instance, that those Charedim who are (truly) full-time Torah students remain in the study hall while the many thousands who are not enlist in the IDF, becomes possible. Other suggestions for resolving the issue can also be raised. There is room for conciliation

Unlike the equality principle, brotherhood can also take need and circumstance into account. Founded on interpersonal relationships rather than an abstract ideal, it breeds consideration and humanity. The word “now,” which has become so common to today’s Israeli parlance, doesn’t work well with brotherhood, and it cannot be coerced. Moreover, it already exists; it just needs to be discovered.

I cannot ask the Israeli public to make the demand for Charedi participation in the IDF without anger and resentment. The anger, certainly in times of war when such high prices are paid by those who serve, is understandable. But it must be anger among brothers. It must never be allowed to descend into a language of hatred and animosity. A return to October 6th would be a terrible calamity for us all.

Brotherhood is also mutual. Just as there is an expectation from the Charedim to act with brotherhood toward others and enlist in the IDF, so others – the general Jewish public in Israel – are similarly expected to behave vis-à-vis the Charedim

Brotherhood is also mutual. Just as there is an expectation from the Charedim to act with brotherhood toward others and enlist in the IDF, so others – the general Jewish public in Israel – are similarly expected to behave vis-à-vis the Charedim. In the matter of recruitment, the result is considering the unique needs of the Charedi public. Yes, Charedi education is sharply different from the religious-Zionist system, and adjustments are required to enable Charedim to serve in the IDF without inevitable and far-reaching changes in lifestyle.

It is possible. The requisite infrastructure, in the form of the Netzach Yehuda battalion and the corresponding organization that provides rabbinic and personal support, already exists. Yet, it requires much investment and attention from Charedi society on the one hand and from the army on the other. It requires brotherhood.


Moshe Rabbeinu expected the tribes of Gad and Reuven to act in a brotherly manner: “Shall your brothers go out to war while you settle here?” (Bamidbar 32:6). Later, he compared the lack of brotherhood to the sin of the spies that prevented the Children of Israel from entering the land. The lack of brotherhood threatened to weaken the people’s resolve to the degree that Moshe termed it a “society of sinful people” (32:14).

This is also the expectation from us. Alongside its profound moral claim, a discourse centered on brotherhood presents a rare opportunity for internal correction. Israeli society is ready for creative solutions. Even the IDF, which hitherto preferred to avoid the considerable headache of Charedi army, has entered a state of heightened attentiveness and goodwill. The matter is in our hands – all of us.

A realistic and effective outline, one with a real chance of progress in the thorny matter of Charedi recruitment, will sprout upon a bed of brotherhood rather than one of equality. To paraphrase the words of one of Israel’s most famous songs, “After we have tried and wizened up, now it’s brotherhood’s turn.”

10 thoughts on “Now It’s Brotherhood’s Turn

  • It’s a nice idea. Most folks assume Newtons law “A body remains at rest, or in motion at a constant speed in a straight line, unless acted upon by a force.” applies to past positions. Unless Chareidi RABBINIC leadership articulates a desire to talk about brotherhood (and not just one mid-level gadol), I fear most folks will think of this and feel a force must be applied:
    bsorot tovot

  • This is a superb article that posits a mutual sense of obligation rooted in brotherhood may break down a barrier that has been a third rail on this issue-it is another excellent example of the widespread if not wholesale rethinking of once sacrosanct and non negotiable viewpoints in the wake of the events of 10/7. I think that if you look in the Chareid media since 10/7 there is a lot of evidence of brotherhood , depictions of the IDF in Gaza and stories of Charedi families with sons and spouses in the IDF. The sea change may already be underway. The words of R Asher Weiss here are especially instructive as to the facts of the ground.

  • Sorry, this is a gross oversimplification. The IDF has a long way to go before Haredi parents will send their sons (most of the so-called Haredi soldiers in Kfir are dropouts from Haredi homes)
    IDF culture has become WOKE in its most total sense. Somehow, we’ve gotten used to female soldiers and even female combat soldiers (and the sexual abuse and abortions that go along with this), both of which are about as kosher as a BLT with cheese on top. Until this ends, this conversation cannot begin.

    • You can’t deal with every issue in every piece! Israel needs both sides of the aisle to move: the Haredi side has to start taking responsibility for Israel, and the non-Haredi side needs to understand that cannot happen with a progressive agenda. Let’s start the work.

  • The challenges to decades of Hareidi rhetoric are significant. While brotherhood is a much-preferred word to equality, there is a very tough road ahead. The current leadership will be unlikely to even participate let alone lead the transformation required. I cannot even imagine how this much-needed transformation will occur.

  • It isa good article, but the army service is just one part of the overall sense of “Am I my Brother’s keeper?”
    The present model of men studying while women earn a parnassah and take care of the children is not tenable, simply because of the demography. That applies to the Security and the Economy, The Charred society got used to a privilege which can no more be justified. I hope what happened on 10/7 and after will create a sense of deep “Cheshbon Nefesh” at the level of Rabbonim , so they can teach that the State of Israel is not another place OF GALUT

  • I agree that calls for Charedim to join in the mitzvah of haztalat Yisrael should be based on brotherhood and shared responsibility as Jews. There needs to be compromise and goodwill, and concessions will need to come from both sides.

    But even the nicest, most loving invitation to contribute will be rejected if Charedim can continue the status quo without penalty. How do I know that? Because the IDF has already created tailor-made options for Charedim, and only a tiny number of mainstream Charedim (not dropouts) have taken advantage of them. Existing IDF initiatives include:

    – The Derech Chaim hesder yeshiva program for Charedim, which combines yeshiva study, computer classes in a Charedi environment at Machon Lev, and service in a prestigious cyber unit.
    – The Nachal Charedi program which combines learning and Charedi kosher/modesty standards with combat service in the Kfir Brigade.
    – The Shachar Kachol program which helps mostly married Charedi men gain the skills they need to serve in non-combat Air Force roles.

    Unfortunately, mainstream Charedi yeshivot don’t guide young men to these programs. Non-service has no social stigma; if anything, service does. As a result, most Charedim spend years of their adult lives in government-funded yeshivot and kollelim which may or may not require actual attendance, and which present no risk of death or serious injury.

    Charedi society won’t present a serious counter-offer to the programs they’ve already been offered (Derech Chaim, Nachal Charedi, Shachar Kachol) until funding for the status quo is turned off. Without any arrests, violence, or jail sentences, the Israeli government could simply cut funding to yeshivot which don’t send substantial percentages of graduates to the IDF, and to kollelim which enroll men who aren’t serving. At that point, Charedi mosadot could either find money from elswhere, or come back to the IDF with a serious proposal for joining the shared mission of defending Eretz Yisrael.

  • The ‘brotherhood’ concept aligns with Rabbi Sacks writings. Rabbi Sacks pushed back on an effort to include ‘Jewish’ as a recognised ethnicity in UK official documentation. This opened up a discussion on how to classify being Jewish if not an ethnicity, and if also not a race. His answer – a family.

    The question of brotherhood versus equality may be a false dichotomy, however. It can be readily agreed that absolute equality is not desirable – forcing disparate ‘square’ identities into one ’round’ hole. But that does not mean there should not be more equality of effort among brothers, while recognising meaningful differences.

    In the Torah’s allocation of roles to the tribes, being a Cohen or a Levi involved hard work and concrete contributions to society as a whole. Torah study, while vital, is not the same if it is not outward looking to wider Jewish society – the concept of Torah lishma, in my humble view, is radically misinterpreted. Volunteering in Charedi society is also not the same because much – although admittedly not all – of this effort is directed inward to meeting the specific needs of Charedi society itself.

    This for me – the concept of brotherhood – is why I have argued for more equality of effort but not equality of outcome by establishing a separate institution within which Charedi can perform national service rather than trying to force Charedim to serve in the IDF specifically. The author pushes Netzach Yehuda, but i do not think any amount of effort will make a carve-out within the IDF a sustainable solution to Charedi service because it will always involve some level of discretion in serving ‘at the pleasure of secular leadership’.

    Brotherhood is recognising that Charedi identity is valid and should be respected and even cherished, without forcing absolute equality which requires them to become something they are not. But more equality of effort should be encouraged, just like the different tribes each made different but important contributions

  • Imagine Moshe Rabbeinu’s reaction to the Haredi refusal to defend Eretz Yisrael! His harsh words to the tribes who were loath to assist in the conquest of Canaan are applicable to those Haredi leaders and followers who watch as Hesder students and secular Israelis put their lives on the line for the Klal. I fear that history will convey a harsh judgement on the Haredi community for its dreadful mistake.

  • The recent statements of the leaders of UTJ and Shas which piously and cynically invoke Pikuach Nefesh at the expense of winning a war against Hamas were intended to take the political heat off UTJ and Shas with respect to the draft deferral issue. This is what happens when such leaders have no stake in their country other than it serving as a source for financial dependency for its institutions and far too many therein who will not become Bnei Torah or Talmidei Chachamim , and who when pushed to the wall cannot say that any of the wars fought since and including 1938 was a MIlchemes Mitzvah. but feel free to engage in comments rooted in theodicy about the cause and effect of such events as 10/7.

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