Does the Israeli army of 2019 want or need chareidim? Based on recent reports of the IDF intentionally inflating chareidi recruitment figures, the answer is a resounding no.
The scandal unfolded in stages. First, Haaretz reported that the chareidi draft numbers for 2018 had declined 20% from the previous year, from 3,070 to 2,480. Then, veteran defense reporter Carmela Menashe dropped a bombshell: The reports on chareidi recruitment are meaningless since the IDF has been fudging its numbers for years.
Menashe’s revelation was a blow to the army’s image. As Democratic Union MK Yair Golan, a former IDF deputy chief of staff, said, it “made the military look like a liar.” But it also revealed what the army really thinks about the need to draft chareidim.
If it were desperate for yeshivah students to fill its manpower needs, it would have publicized their failure to meet their quotas and demanded action. Instead, it covered it up. Indeed, an officer in the IDF’s Manpower Directorate told Channel 13 news that he had been pressured by higher-ups “to fix the numbers” to make it look like the quotas were being met.
What does this tell us? As Emanuel Shilo, the editor of Basheva, observed, “In the eyes of the upper echelons of the IDF, female soldiers are a solution to the manpower crisis, while chareidim are a headache.”
In its (lame) defense, the IDF said the phony numbers weren’t a case of deliberate fraud, but the result of a mistake in how to define chareidim.
Initially, the definition included those who had studied in yeshivah, as well as those who lived a “chareidi lifestyle.” Even after the definition was officially narrowed in 2014 to those who’d studied in a chareidi institution for at least two years, recruits classified under the earlier definition were still erroneously being included in the chareidi numbers.
All this is beside the point, which is that the army neither wants nor needs full-time yeshivah students in its ranks and is being forced to pretend otherwise by politicians who need to show their voters that they stood up for the principle of an equal sharing of the defense burden.
But instead of forcing the army to lie, or to waste its precious time on trying to define who is a chareidi, the lawmakers and courts need to redefine “national service.”
That definition should continue to include soldiers, the minority of whom serve in combat and the majority of whom do desk jobs, as well as those who contribute in hospitals, schools and a host of other valuable institutions.
But it must be expanded to include those who do the ultimate in national service, who ensure the future of the Jewish people and merit the Divine protection that the country depends on: the tens of thousands of men who toil in Torah day and night, bearing much more than their share of the burden.