Vacation Draft for the Haredim

By: David M. Weinberg

May 23, 2012

Published in Israel Hayom, May 23, 2012. Click for a printer-friendly copy.

Haredim should do military service on their yeshiva semester breaks, which last ten long weeks a year. This is my solution for the the Ultra-Orthodox draft conundrum, a solution that embraces the opposing core principles of both the Haredi and the secular camps. 

As the question of exemption from army service for the Ultra-Orthodox (Haredim) comes to a boil, I think that I have a solution! It can save MK Yohanan Plesner and his committee — charged with finding a just solution to sharing the burden of service — a lot of work. It can save Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition a lot of trouble. It can save Israeli society a ton of tension and aggravation.

My solution for the Ultra-Orthodox draft conundrum won’t require Haredi politicians or rabbis to abandon their high principles (as when they say that no one who wants to study Torah should be prevented from doing so, without restrictions or quotas). My solution won’t require the IDF or the police to drag a single Haredi youngster out of his yeshiva or his home.

Similarly, my solution for this vexing matter won’t require secular Israelis to put aside their nationalistic ethics or their values (one man, one vote, one soldier – no exceptions). Nobody will have to stomach the unfairness of sending their son off to the military front, while accepting the obnoxious Haredi claim to be “putting their lives equally at stake in the tents of Torah.”

Indeed, my solution for the Haredi draft issue embraces the opposing core principles of both the Haredi and the secular camps, and yet manages to square the circle. It simultaneously and concurrently upholds the belief that the world of Torah study should be allowed to flourish without restriction in the State of Israel, and the belief that it is morally unacceptable that an entire class of Israeli citizens automatically be released from the burden of defending the country.

Here’s how: We draft the Ultra-Orthodox into the Israeli army or into national service – when they’re on vacation. They serve only during their semester breaks, when they are anyway not “studying their hearts out” in yeshiva (or in the literal Hebrew phrase they like to use: “studying to death in the tents of Torah”). No Haredi youngster has to miss a day of yeshiva classes, any time, any year.

For the secular or Modern Orthodox Israeli this wouldn’t be a workable solution. In the normal course of things, average people don’t get enough vacation from work to devote to another significant pursuit. Most employees can take, at best, two or three weeks a year in personal vacation time, and this is insufficient for regular service in the army. It’s barely enough time for annual reserve duty. (The self-employed often cannot afford to take even a week off!)

In fact, there is no profession in modern Israel and no occupation whatsoever where employees get more than a month’s time in annual vacation. Not even senior executives. Nobody gets more than a month’s vacation time, except yeshiva students and yeshiva educators. They take 10 weeks vacation a year!

Consider this: Almost every yeshiva and kollel in this country operates on the same academic calendar. They begin studies at the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul and conclude their first “zman” (yeshiva-speak for “semester”) six weeks later, before Yom Kippur. Then students and teachers are off on vacation though Succot until the beginning of the month of Cheshvan. Total vacation time, in one lump: Three weeks.

The five-month winter semester ends at the end of Adar, when yeshivas are closed for the entire month of Nissan (including Passover). Vacation time: Another four weeks. The three-month summer semester ends at the beginning of Av, launching another vacation break, amounting to an additional three to four weeks.

Total vacation accrued, for all junior and senior kollel men, yeshiva boys, and yeshiva educators of all ranks and stripes: ten to eleven weeks of annual vacation. Ultra-Orthodox society calls this “bein hazmanim” (between semesters). At these vacation times, you’ll find Haredi youth and Haredi families travelling and hiking the country, visiting its parks, shopping in its malls, swimming in its pools, and even occasionally travelling abroad. Doing normal vacation stuff.

I say that the State of Israel has a right to draft these vacationing Haredim for national and military service. The vacation-blessed Haredim have an obligation to forgo at least some of their time “outside the tents of Torah” to shouldering the national burden.

It could work like this: For say, six, out of their ten weeks of vacation each year, Ultra-Orthodox men would be drafted into specially-refined frameworks and appropriate units – ranging from Haredi Nachal units to Magen David Adom and rescue services to hi-tech air force units. They would serve without missing a minute of any “seder” or “zman,” without missing a single class or exam, without disrupting their long-term rabbinic or Talmudic study plans, and without emptying out the yeshivot (which is what the yeshiva deans fear most).

Haredim might have to miss out on a few jeep adventures in the Judean mountains or several liturgical concerts in the park, or even the luxury of having a Pesach seder at home – but that’s a small price to pay for national responsibility and unity. (Their yeshiva deans, who constantly rail against excess and too-loose vacationing, may even come to appreciate the new arrangement, in which Haredim will serve together in a kosher environment).

Some Haredim might even have to spend Yom Kippur in the army or in a hospital pushing wheelchairs (but at least they won’t have to worry about acceptable levels of kosher food on that day!)

So Haredim can serve on semester break. Call it “giyus bein hazmanim” (vacation draft). Even after serving six weeks a year in the army (for multiple years), Haredim would still be left on average with an additional four weeks of annual vacation. Like I said, that’s more than the rest of us get.

Haredim have the time and the ability to serve the country without cutting back on Torah study or abandoning their unique way of life – if they truly care to share in the burdens of this country and not just hide behind ideological slogans.

For its part, mainstream Israel can facilitate increased Haredi participation in the army (and by extension, in broader society too) by adopting crafty and non-threatening compromise solutions, such as this proposal.

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About David Weinberg

David M. Weinberg is a spokesman, speechwriter, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »


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