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Former Israeli PM Naftali Bennett: Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men must serve in IDF and take paying jobs

There’s no precedent in Bible or Israeli history for religious men refusing to defend the nation and work, Bennett says during interview on THE ROSENBERG REPORT

Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali in an interview on TBN's The Rosenberg Report (Photo: Screenshot)

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – Aside from figuring out the way best way to win in Gaza, defeat Hamas, and get all the hostages out of Gaza, another huge debate is roiling Israelis.

Should ultra-Orthodox Israeli Jews be required to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces?

Moreover, is it acceptable for ultra-Orthodox Jews (known in Hebrew as “Haredim”) to refuse to get paying jobs, support their families, or pay taxes, but instead to demand that the Israeli government will pay them (the men, at least) to study Torah, and to receive higher government stipends for each child they have?

This week on THE ROSENBERG REPORT, former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett – himself a religious Orthodox Jew – told me he absolutely rejects the argument of the Haredim that they have no responsibility to work or defend the country.

I’ll get to his quotes in a moment – I found them very interesting in light of the current debate.

And, in this case, I very much agree with him.

(Photo: Screenshot/TBN's The Rosenberg Report)


But first, let me provide some context.

Over the years, the cost of subsidizing the Haredim has grown exponentially.

And Israeli taxpayers are increasingly resentful of – and angry towards – the Haredim for “being on welfare,” or “being freeloaders,” and of not sending their children to serve in the army to defend the country when everyone else has to.

In this time of war, resentment against the Haredim is even more intense.

This isn’t just a socio-economic tension, however.

There are real-world political tensions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has both Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox religious parties in his coalition.

Thus, Netanyahu has long supported paying billions of shekels to the Haredim communities not to work, to study Torah, to have more children, and to avoid serving in the IDF.

If he were to support sweeping reforms in these areas, his government would very likely collapse.

The issue of Haredim serving in the IDF is now coming to a head within a legal context.

On Sunday, the Supreme Court held a hearing on the matter after years of court battles by Haredim leaders to keep their children exempt from mandatory military service.

As ALL ISRAEL NEWS has reported, during Sunday’s hearing, the justices of Israel’s High Court for the first time gave a strong indication that they intend to solve the problem "once and for all."

Israel’s attorney general argued that the current war makes it clear that the IDF doesn’t have enough soldiers and thus must conscript several thousand Haredim young men immediately, and stop giving government welfare to the rest of the Haredim that refuse to serve.

“Observers across Israel’s media landscape were shocked by the sharp tone taken by the justices regarding the government’s position, while largely agreeing with the positions taken by the petitioning NGOs and the attorney general,” ALL ISRAEL NEWS reported.

Justice Noam Sohlberg insisted there was an “existential need” for more soldiers.

Yonah Jeremy Bob, senior military correspondent for The Jerusalem Post, wrote: “October 7th does seem to have made the court and the general public more ready to go to the mat with the Haredim on the issue.”

Joel C. Rosenberg interviews former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali on TBN's The Rosenberg Report (Photo: Screenshot)


Recently, I sat down for an extended interview with former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

We talked about a range of issues, covering Israel’s past, present, and future.

This week, I specifically asked Bennett his perspective as an observant Orthodox Jew – the first religious Jew ever to serve as Israel’s prime minister – to weigh in on the topic.

Bennett was unequivocal.

He not only served in the IDF but served in elite combat units and served in battle in Gaza and Lebanon.

What’s more, while he enjoys studying the Jewish scriptures, he has worked all of his adult life and has become a very successful entrepreneur and CEO.

Thus, he rejects entirely the argument by ultra-Orthodox Jews that they have no responsibility to defend the State of Israel or to work and pay taxes.

Indeed, Bennett argues that there is no precedent in biblical history or the rest of Jewish history for refusing to military serve and refusing to take a paying job.

To see this specific section of our conversation, please click here and go to 9:30 minutes into the program.

Joel C. Rosenberg and former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali on TBN's The Rosenberg Report (Photo: Screenshot)

Here’s a partial transcript of our conversation on THE ROSENBERG REPORT.

ROSENBERG: How does one balance the tensions between religious Jews who are among those – not you, clearly, because you served in the military – but they're saying, “No, we won't send our sons and daughters to serve in the IDF no matter what the dangers are. We're not going to pay taxes. And we'd like you [the government] to pay us to study Torah.” There’s a huge tension between the rest of society who’s going, “That doesn't seem fair at any time, but certainly not now.” So, as you see the future, what's the future that you paint in the big picture technologically, tourism, whatever, but also how to solve this strange conundrum?

FORMER PRIME MINISTER NAFTALI BENNETT: Well, my vision for Israel is, first of all, we have to beat our enemies right now. We have to weaken Iran. But at the same time, we have to begin rebuilding Israel.

Our start-up nation – our innovation nation – we are a solutions nation, bringing solutions to the biggest problems in the world, be it rockets with lasers or be it heart stents, or be it GPS devices and Waze, you name it.

I'm right now in three startups – in three companies – a quantum computing company, a medical company, and an AI-based company. So, you know, we have to be at the forefront of all of that.

Regarding the ultra-Orthodox Jews – the Haredim that don’t serve in the Army and don’t work – this is unacceptable. This cannot stand.

There can be a group of Haredim that learn Torah but it has to be limited. The rest have to serve in the army.

Look at me. I served as a platoon commander – a company commander – in some of the best units, commando units, of Israel. And I'm a man of faith. It works together.

I would almost say the opposite.

If you look at the Bible, you never will see this notion of someone who is, you know, excluded from the duties of an Israeli to go out and fight, or go out and support his family. This has no precedent in Jewish history. This is a new, unsustainable formula. I don't accept that. We need to change it.

Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.

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