Published in The Jerusalem Post on March 5, 2000
The Tal Committee report on the draft of haredim, expected out later this week, falls woefully short of its own objectives and will end up satisfying no-one. Neither those who mistakenly want to ram army service down the throats of the Ultra-Orthodox, nor those who helpfully seek to draw the haredim out of their ghettos will be able to embrace this report with any enthusiasm.
Justice Tal and his committee get it right on the basics: it is important that the State of Israel allow the world of Torah study to flourish; that, concurrently, it is morally unacceptable that an entire class of Israeli citizens automatically be released from the burden of defending the country; that army service cannot be forced on the haredim, and that they are, anyway, of no real value to the army; and that the remedy lies in a social re-engineering of haredi society.
The Tal Report recommends that haredi men be allowed to study Torah and defer army service until age 25 or 26. Then, they’ll be able to leave the yeshivot for a year of “adjustment”, without facing immediate draft. If they decide to remain “on the outside” these men will become draftable, with a number of service options: service in the Home Front command or haredi Nahal Brigade for four months; extended annual reserve service as firemen; or a one-year, non-salaried national service framework.
My main problem with the Tal report isn’t the unfortunate legitimacy it provides to haredi draft-dodging between 18-26 nor the new “quickie” service options for older men. Yes, these make me mad, but like Tal, I recognize that equalizing the defense burden is an impossible goal at this time. My problem with the report is that Tal’s social engineering solutions for the haredi world fall far short of the mark and, I’m afraid, will fail to achieve their objective.
The greatest problem we have with the haredi world, and its greatest problem within itself, is not draft dodging. It is the haredi failure to prepare its young men and women for a productive working role in society. As a result, the Ultra-Orthodox world suffers from dreadful poverty and other social ills – becoming a drain on the Israeli economy and a strain on the fabric of our society.
Three things prevent the masses of haredim from leaving the bloated yeshiva world and going out to work: the draft; the incredible, all-embracing cocoon of government stipends and subsidies currently granted to yeshiva families who don’t work; and the fact that most haredim do not have the secular education necessary to obtain a decent, salaried job in the modern world.
The solution, then, to these problems is obvious: release the haredim from the draft at a very young age (say 20, before they have five kids); end government subsidies for yeshiva families beyond this age; and facilitate the establishment of educational frameworks appropriate for haredim.
Those haredim with serious Torah careers ahead of them will continue to study Torah in yeshivot of distinction with rigorous acceptance and achievement standards. Religious society will find ways to support them, and I support government funding for such yeshivot too – within defined limits.
The rest of haredi men – the majority — will be drawn out of hiding in unexceptional yeshivot, to their benefit and ours, and into the real working world. Once this begins to happen, haredi men will realize that they need to get educated in maths, sciences and the humanities; and that service in the army is to their advantage when competing for jobs.
Realistically, this is the only way haredim will enter the army; only once they start working; only as a result of long-term, deep-rooted change in the societal patterns and mores of haredi society. Non-haredi Israel has a responsibility to help effect this change.
THE TAL Report recognizes this, but fails to recommend the tough medicine necessary to bring about the required societal shifts. Instead, it recommends a series of pareve, half-way measures – *nisht a hin in nisht a heir.*
Tal recommendations allow haredim out of the yeshivot without fear of a full-fledged draft only at age 26 – a very late date from my perspective. By then many haredim have large families and benefit from enormous government subsidies for yeshiva families – over NIS 4,000 a month according a report presented to the Tal Committee by the Treasury. This is a significant sum, neither easy to give up nor to replace through employment.
Tal’s recommendation also means that until 26 many haredim will continue skulking in yeshivot to avoid the draft – without obtaining any secular education. How many haredi men entering the work force in their late twenties are likely to qualify for well-paying jobs? Just how many haredim are cut-out for intensive computer and Internet studies at age 27 or 30?
Tal also recommends a tough Military Police regime meant to ensure that the 32,000 draft-age haredim in yeshivot really study and do not work on the side. I ask: isn’t this at cross-purposes with the overall goal? We should be encouraging, not discouraging, the move by haredim into the working world – whether they’ve served in the army or not.
Unfortunately, Tal’s half-measures beget an extremely problematic brew: a legitimization (and perhaps enactment into law) of the fact that haredi 18-year-olds don’t get drafted; coupled with a lame social re-ordering that fails to furnish the necessary medicine for haredi society.