Ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students in Israel have been exempt from serving in the country’s military since the nation’s founding. Military service is mandatory for both the irreligious and the moderately devout; but ultra-Orthodox Jews claim that when their children study the scriptures, they’re doing more important work for the country’s safety than those who serve as Hamas fodder.
“Let the other families sacrifice their children instead,” has been the thinking in these circles. “Ours are just too godly.”
But after years of debates and legislative wrangling, the free ride is over, reports the Huffington Post:
Israeli lawmakers passed a contentious law on Wednesday meant to draft ultra-Orthodox Jews into the military, the culmination of a drive for reforms that has seen mass protests by the religious community in Israel and beyond.
The issue of conscription of the ultra-Orthodox is at the heart of a cultural war in Israel. The matter featured prominently in elections last year that led to the establishment of the center-right government, which has pushed for the new legislation. …
[T]he ultra-Orthodox, who make up about 8 percent of Israel’s 8 million citizens, have largely been allowed to avoid military service in order to pursue religious studies. In contrast, most secular Jewish men perform three years of compulsory service. The stark difference in the society continues well into adulthood. Older religious men often don’t work and collect welfare stipends while continuing to study full time.
The ultra-Orthodox insist their young men serve the nation through prayer and study, thus preserving Jewish learning and heritage.
Recent protests rallies in Jerusalem (hundreds of thousands of participants) and New York (tens of thousands) did nothing to stop the new law.
According to a 2013 article in Haaretz, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar believes that it’s misguided and evil to support universal military service in Israel. ‘Cause guess who’s behind such a draft? The devil!
Torah study is thriving like it did in the past,” he said. “The devil, jealous at seeing this, put it into the minds of some people to fight against the Torah.”
If you prefer even more extreme examples of religious privilege, take a gander at this:
[A] draft resisters’ guide tailored for haredi yeshiva students reportedly compares the draft of those haredi yeshiva students to the Holocaust and reminds them that, like in the Holocaust, sometimes suicide is preferable to complying with the decrees of an evil government.
Israel is right not to have bowed to these histrionics. It would be ludicrously unfair to continue to impose sacrifices on secular and moderately-religious citizens while declaring snooty fundies to be exempt. For sixty-five years, ultra-Orthodox Israelis have received a gift they weren’t logically entitled to. They should now thank their lucky stars that they got away with it for that long, and grasp the opportunity to prove that they can be normally-functioning members of a democratic society.
(Image via Shutterstock)