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Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Haredi draft controversy is just another round in a very old battle

34 years ago, when I was a bochur (unmarried man) in a religious Zionist yeshiva, Golda Meir passed away. As is often the case when someone of her political stature passes away, Meir's funeral was delayed for foreign dignitaries to arrive. Our rebbe (rabbi), who shall remain nameless, got up in front of our shiur (class) the next morning, and gave us a lesson in Zionist history that I have never forgotten.

"It's good for her to suffer," he told us. "She deserves to suffer," he emphasized. "And suffer she will because the hardest time for a person's soul is the time between death and burial," he assured us.

The group of 25-30 boys, mostly from religious Zionist homes in the US and UK, looked at him in shock. "Rabbi," we asked, "how can you say such things about Golda, who is a folk hero among Jews abroad?"

He then proceeded to tell us why 'Golda' deserved to suffer. 'Golda' had been in charge of youth immigration in the 1950's. It was she who was personally responsible for the 'reeducation' of so many Jews of Sephardic extraction to become 'Hebrews' and 'Israelis' rather than Jews. For that, he told us, she deserved to suffer.

(As an aside, please allow me to add, as I told my rebbe when he came to visit me during my father's shiva, that I learned another lesson from that particular morning's harangue: When someone dies, if you are concerned for them, you should try to bury them as soon as possible. Both of my parents passed away in the early hours of Friday mornings seven years apart. Both funerals took place on Friday afternoons, despite the fact that my parents are buried in the US where it is rare to have a funeral so quickly).

I am about to link to an article that I consider important to understanding the current controversy about drafting Haredim. It is very long (and most of the commenters on the original article obviously did not read the entire article). But it teaches important context about why many Haredim don't serve in the army and the real goals behind the drive to draft them. I am going to quote a small part of the article, and urge you to read the whole thing. I will add more at the end, so don't just click through from here (Hat Tip: Aryeh Z).
The secular/political Zionist dream was to create – along with a Jewish homeland – a completely new definition of the Jew and the Jewish People; a Jewishness that unambiguously excluded the concept of a covenantal people loyal to the Torah and the commandments. In other words, the Judaism that had sustained the Nation of Israel for the previous 3,400 years was to be discarded and replaced with a modernistic amalgamation of nationalism, socialism, enlightened western culture, and ethnic Jewish identity.


This obsession with creating a “new Jew” even trumped the basic values of Jewish brotherhood, the imperative that all Jews are responsible for one another, and that nothing takes precedence over saving lives. David Ben-Gurion shockingly wrote the following in 1938, one month after Kristellnacht:
“If I knew it was possible to save all [Jewish] children of Germany by their transfer to England and only half of them by transferring them to Eretz-Yisrael, I would choose the latter—-because we are faced not only with the accounting of these [Jewish] children but also with the historical accounting of the Jewish People.”


It is against this backdrop that the conflict arose over mandatory army service. Under no circumstances was the orthodox community prepared to put their young sons – during the most impressionable years of their lives (18-21 years of age) – in the hands of a government that looked at their way of life with disdain, contempt, and outright hatred; a government that was even prepared to murder other Jews to achieve their goals.
David Ben-Gurion realized that any attempt to force the issue would result, literally, in civil war. The government reluctantly amended the draft law to exclude orthodox men who were learning full time in Yeshivot (rabbinical seminaries). However, none of these men would be permitted to work legally unless they did Army service. This act of spiteful cruelty was a typical outgrowth of the unbridled arrogance of Ben-Gurion and his ilk. The message to the Hareidi community was the following:
If you don’t do it our way, we will strip you of your basic human dignity; that is to say, the ability to work and support oneself and one’s family. If you want to live your way of life you will be forced to live on either government handouts or charity.
In other words, the Hareidim effectively became 2nd class citizens in the new State of Israel. After forcing the Hareidi community into this situation and forbidding them to work unless they toed the secular-Zionist line, they then accused them of being “parasites” because they didn’t work!
The “parasite” canard along with the accusation that the Hareidim refuse to “share the burden” of serving in the army, has been used as a stick with which to beat the Hareidi community since the founding of the State of Israel. It has also been effectively used by secular ideologues to demonize Hareidim among non-observant Israelis. Imagine how different it would have been if instead of doing everything in his power to marginalize the Hareidi community Ben-Gurion had held out his hand in brotherly love and said the following:
“We are brothers, the sons of one man” (Gen. 42:13) All of us are here because we are Jews. We all love the land of Israel and we all agree that a Jew must serve the needs of the Jewish people. Our sons will serve by joining the army, your sons will serve by keeping alive our moral and spiritual legacy by studying Torah. After both complete their years of service they are free to work and become productive members of our society.
How different it could have been indeed.

The one fact that the author, Rabbi Moshe Averick, left out is that the Chazon Ish (Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz), who made the deal with Ben Gurion over the Haredi draft 60 years or so ago, offered to send all the yeshiva boys to the army if the army would not have women. Since the goal was and is, as Rabbi Averick states, to create a 'new kind of Jew,' Ben Gurion turned him down.

As many of you know (because some of you have even met me there), I attend a weekly Torah class in Jerusalem. The rabbi who gives the class once told us that he met a man who knew someone who had asked David Ben Gurion why he allowed a religious education system to be created in the new state at all. Ben Gurion responded that he figured that within a generation, all attachment to traditional Judaism would die out anyway, so why fight with them. On this, as on many other matters, Ben Gurion was clearly wrong.

Read the whole thing.

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