One of the greatest dangers facing chareidi Jewry in Israel today is complacency. You’d think, to judge by the attitude of some, that there isn’t much at stake in the upcoming national elections. A few names and faces will change in the Cabinet, in the post-elections game of musical chairs, but as far as the chareidi world is concerned, what was will continue to be.
This attitude isn’t optimistic; it’s dangerous. What was is already gone. For decades, the defense minister had the authority to sign an annual waiver allowing an unlimited number of yeshivah students to defer their military service. In response to petitions from anti-religious elements, the High Court ruled that this arrangement could not continue and that the Knesset would have to legislate laws to allow the status quo to continue.
In 2002, the Tal Law was passed and we had 10 years of quiet. But last February, the court ruled, again in response to anti-religious petitions, that the law was unconstitutional. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that he will “formulate a new bill that would guarantee a more equal sharing of the burden of all parts of Israeli society.”
In the meantime, yeshivah students are receiving draft notices, showing up at enlistment offices to fill out questionnaires and being given dates for their enlistment. If an arrangement is not reached soon, these bachurei yeshivah can technically be arrested.
The next government is going to be the one that either defuses the problem, or allows it to explode into something that makes it impossible to continue chareidi life in Israel as we have known it. In such circumstances, to put it mildly, there is no room for complacency.
A few days ago, it was announced that the government ended 2012 with a budget deficit of nearly NIS 40 billion, more than twice its original estimate. While Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz are quick to assure voters that this won’t mean a tax hike, it is clear that there will be draconian decrees, including severe spending cuts.
As a rule, when the economic blanket doesn’t cover everyone, it is those who are viewed as “the other” who are left out in the cold. The unprecedented media incitement of recent years has been an undisguised attempt to turn the chareidi public into “the other,” the ones whose rights aren’t legitimate and can therefore be denied.
In the absence of strong chareidi representation in the Knesset, Netanyahu can be expected to target funding for the Torah world. This includes everything from classrooms for children in Talmudei Torah — which are already overcrowded and housed in sub-standard facilities — to funding for yeshivos and kollelim, housing construction for chareidi communities and child-allocation payments.
Boiled down to the level of the individual, it means that many, many families that are barely keeping their heads above water will find themselves unable to provide their children with even the basics.
It should be understood that in the current climate, in which both the media and the politicians have been inciting against chareidim, Netanyahu will gain political points by “showing the chareidim” and changing the status quo on army service and critical funding issues. Taking such steps will, sadly, make it easier for him to pass other unpopular measures, affecting other parts of the public.
At the same time, the Reform movement is making inroads, using the courts and the anti-religious media to gain funding and influence. Such vital issues as conversion and marriage according to halachah, protection of Shabbos, preserving the Jewish character of the country and upholding minimal standards of modesty are the subject of an intense battle that is being waged daily by chareidi MKs. The more clout they have, the better their chance of continuing to wage the battle successfully.
In this situation, we have no choice but to fight to protect our vital interests. And this fight must be waged, as always, in accordance with guidelines issued by the Gedolim.
When the State of Israel was established, it was clear that in order for Torah Jewry to be able to survive and thrive in Eretz Yisrael, many battles would have to be fought. The question that was brought before the Gedolei Yisrael of that generation was whether these battles should be fought inside or outside the government.
The decision made by the majority of Gedolim was that the proper approach was to fight from within. They directed their followers to participate in elections and elect Knesset members that will ably represent the Torah community. Upon direction of these venerated Gedolim, representatives of Yahadus HaTorah joined the government, and stayed with the coalition until they were forced to leave during the crisis of giyus banos. But even when they declined to be part of a coalition, they stayed in the Knesset, to fight for the rights of Chareidi Jewry. The same decision applies today as well.
While Americans — or most Israeli citizens living outside of Israel — can’t vote in next Tuesday’s election, they still have an important role to play, as they can encourage their relatives and friends to heed the directive of Gedolei Yisrael. This is also a good time for tefillah on behalf of our brethren in Eretz Yisrael.
May the kiddush Hashem created by uniting to heed the words of Gedolei Yisrael serve as a merit for Am Yisrael in the elections and the fateful days that follow.