n Sunday March 2nd, 300,000 ultra-Orthodox men (Haredim) converged on Jerusalem for a prayer meeting/demonstration against the so called “Military Draft Reform” Bill that has been passed by the Knesset. The issue of whether or not Haredi men should serve in the military, and be integrated into society in general, is a highly divisive and controversial issue in Israeli society today. In several articles, we will do our best to explain the roots of this serious fissure in our nation, so that we can pray together for the continuing restoration of Israel, both physical and spiritual.
At the founding of the State in 1948, a compromise was reached by PM Ben Gurion with a leading Haredi Rabbi: 400 Haredi men, representing the “cream of the crop,” could be exempted from national military service and receive government support to continue their rabbinical studies at large, in officially recognized Yeshivas (Orthodox Jewish seminaries).
Over the years, the number of Haredi men in Yeshivas grew by the thousands, and this “magic number” of 400 was never enforced. (Plus, there were always enough conscripts for the army, even without Haredi enlistment.) Today the situation has “snowballed” to ridiculous proportions: close to 15% of males in our society (the Haredi sector) not only do not serve in the military—they refuse almost all “secular” or “modern” education, thus confining themselves to a life of Yeshiva study that they (and their wives) can only support by some kind of menial job. What does this mean? That 15% of working age men in our nation, along with their Yeshivas and their large families (7 children on the average) must be supported by national welfare!
Like a Leech
The fact that Israel is fairly well-off economically is a miracle—and a tribute to a lot of hard work by the remaining 85% of working age men (and many women)!! But this economic and social situation has become unbearable for the majority of Israelis.
Two years ago, hundreds of thousands of secular and non-Haredi – religious Israelis (modern Orthodox, “knit kippa”) demonstrated against this situation whereby such a large sector of the population does not serve or work to share the heavy tax burden, while at the same demanding an ever-increasing share of national welfare. Those demonstrations resulted in two young politicians—one secular, and one modern Orthodox (Lapid and Bennet)—coming to power in the last elections, on promises of passing laws to “share the burden.” They delivered on their promise, and now laws are in place to very gradually (and sensitively) force Haredim into mainstream education, military service, and taxation.
How is it that Haredi Jews justify this “parasitic” existence on the State? We will look at this issue in our next article.