The Knesset Members continue to pore over the latest IDF draft law proposal formulated by Defense Ministry staffers and submitted to them just a few days ago. Once again, for the umpteenth time, elements in the State of Israel are trying to drive a wedge into the heart of the Jewish Nation, striking at those who study Torah and have sworn allegiance to Hashem and His Torah at Har Sinai.
Ever since the establishment of the State of Israel 70 years ago, there has been an agreement, both verbal and in writing, that the world of Torah would be exempted from other civil obligations. “Men of Torah” have always been the spearhead and the oxygen of our special nation that has returned to its land and its country with the goal of establishing itself anew and restoring the Torah sanctuaries that were once common throughout Europe.
The new law essentially calls for economic sanctions — cuts in government funding — for yeshivot and their students in which “insufficient” numbers of students enlist in the IDF. The Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisroel has taken upon itself a very weighty matter in discussing this topic, with immeasurable responsibility for the future of the Nation of Israel. As Rabbi Saadiah Gaon wrote well over 1,000 years ago, “Our nation is a nation only in its Torah.”
The Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah declared that the proposed law is totally unacceptable and must be rectified, and that the chareidi parties must not support its current format in any way. They made it clear that even if the cost is the toppling of the government, chareidi Jews must not lend a hand to compromises of this nature.
The history of chareidim and the IDF is quite fascinating. At the beginning of this saga, the State of Israel actually had great understanding and recognition of the importance of Torah study and scholars. Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, penned this strong promise in Nisan 5709 (April 1949): “Freedom of religion and of conscience will be guaranteed. Every citizen of the state will be able to keep the customs of his religion as he wishes, and there will be no coercion on the part of the government.”
At the time, Ben-Gurion asked that the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee agree to defer the IDF recruitment of 400 scholars for whom Torah study was their sole occupation (Toratam umanutam). As time passed, this arrangement — often known as the “status quo” — expanded with the growth of the chareidi population and the number of yeshivah students.
Many attempts were made to change this arrangement. Committees were established for this purpose, and the latest to champion the cause has been the chairman of the Yesh Atid party, MK Yair Lapid. But hundreds of thousands of loyal Jews took to the streets to cry out in pain and prayer in light of various planned decrees against the yeshivot and against the shtenders. And in fact, the Gemara won out — and it will win out again.
The truth of the matter is well known in the security establishment, and all those who self-righteously call for “equality in the security burden” know it as well: There is no need for chareidi soldiers, and the army is not designed to accept them en masse. And anyway, with all the talk of the need for a “small and smart army,” hasn’t the time yet come to implement that idea?
It is no secret that there are thousands of draft-dodgers in the general population, people who don’t enlist in the army simply because they don’t feel like it. But we don’t find the police searching them out, nor do we hear of arrests and jail sentences. The reason? The IDF does not need them.
The number of non-chareidi draft-dodgers is no fewer than the number of yeshivah students who serve in the tents of Torah and file their exemption papers perfectly legally. The latter defer their recruitment so that they can spend their days learning Torah, and the former defer their recruitment so that they can waste their days having a good time.
The State of Israel would be well-advised to first gather up all those who spend their times in bars and clubs, whose “exemption” from IDF service is illegal — and only then to turn its attention to the small, lean sheep, the Torah scholars who devote themselves heart and soul so that Torah should continue to thrive.