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Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community must finally enlist in the IDF and shoulder an equal part of the burden

An ultra-Orthodox protester holds a sign that reads, "To jail, not to the army," during a demonstration against the drafting of ultra-Orthodox Jews to the Israeli army, on highway 4 outside of Bnei Brak, June 20, 2024. (Photo: Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Over the past weeks, domestic Israeli politics has once again been dominated by discussions about an IDF draft law intended to finally bring about the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox Jews, Haredim, into Israel’s army.

The issue threatens to derail Netanyahu’s government as the ultra-Orthodox parties continue to hold the position which can be summarized by the famous slogan often seen at Haredi demonstrations: “We would rather die than enlist.”

This happens just as the government is about to make the fateful decision of whether to go to war with Hezbollah to save the burning north, while in the south, the Gaza War continues and the hostages still haven’t returned.

Even though the issue isn’t new, the circumstances have brought the overwhelming majority of Israelis to the final conviction that this has to be addressed and solved once and for all, for the sake of Israel’s future.

We at ALL ISRAEL NEWS stand with this majority.

The current war, the longest Israel has experienced since its Independence War in 1948, has seen the culmination of a trend toward burdening an ever-shrinking part of the population with the heavy burden of service in the IDF.

In addition to the initial three years of service, this also means decades of reserve duty.

And just as hundreds of thousands of families have been shouldering this burden – the men losing their jobs while defending the country, their businesses suffering losses and going bankrupt, and their spouses, children, and other relatives dying during military service – the government appears intent on further increasing their load.

The right-wing coalition recently approved raising the retirement age for IDF reservists, while continuing to discuss minuscule increases in the enlistment goals for Haredis.

This is demoralizing Israeli society and further endangers its already strained social fabric.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Herzi Halevi recently emphasized that “there is now a clear need” for Haredi soldiers and that every new “ultra-Orthodox battalion decreases the need for the deployment of many thousands of reservists.”

Even Israel’s High Court now seems fed up and set to force the issue this time, potentially forcing the government to start enlisting Haredi men by force, or completely cut their stipends.

Both actions could lead to widespread, possibly violent, mass demonstrations by Haredis amid the ongoing war.

We at ALL ISRAEL NEWS stand with most secular, traditional, and religious Israelis on this issue: Every citizen should do his part, according to his abilities, and either enlist in the Israel Defense Forces or serve the country in an alternative framework.

The existing National Service holds many such opportunities to serve the broader society, for example in a rescue service, or to serve local communities as caregivers or even as local security forces with armed training.

For the sake of cohesion in Israeli society, the Haredi community should start contributing, taking inspiration from some of its pioneers.

For example, the first responders of the ZAKA organization – who are almost all ultra-Orthodox Jews – are doing holy work and have touched many hearts with their relentless service under fire on October 7 and since.

Here, this issue also touches on the situation of Israel’s Arab and Muslim population, which should also be encouraged to serve the greater society or their local communities and integrate into Israeli society in this way.

Israel now needs unity above all, especially during this time of war and crises.

This unity must express itself in all parts of society shouldering part of the heavy burden the nation is carrying at this dire time.

It is also important to note that for the sake of unity, enlisting the Haredi population must be done with an understanding of their wish to keep their lifestyle and traditions intact as far as possible.

As people of faith, we can understand the Haredi fear that their children might be led away from their community and upbringing through service in the explicitly secular framework of the IDF.

To a degree, we can also understand the popular Haredi argument that the power of prayer is just as, or even more important, than armed service - but it’s possible to do both at the same time, as the National Religious community has shown.

We can and should show sensitivity for those concerns but when we look to the Bible, we can see numerous examples of the people of Israel taking up arms, even while trusting God to ultimately provide victory in battle. 

There is no contradiction here. In the Old Testament, God promises the people of Israel numerous times: “The Lord your God has delivered them into your hand.”

What follows usually isn’t a spontaneous miracle, but armed battle, as Israel takes up arms to take God up on his word and realize his promises.

We call on all sides of Israeli society to engage in good-faith dialogue to solve this situation. 

The secular and traditional majority should try to avoid drafting the Haredis by force and make it as easy as possible for them to find ways to serve the country.

On the other hand, we don’t seek to disadvantage the ultra-Orthodox community but rather want to see equal national service for the state.

We believe that Israel exists because of God’s promises and faithfulness, not because of the Torah itself, as Haredis often claim.

But throughout the Bible, people of faith have been called to take up arms and take possession of God’s promises, if necessary by force of arms.

Today, it is time the ultra-Orthodox community recognize this and join their brothers in defending their home.

The ALL ISRAEL NEWS Editorial team expresses our view on various issues that we consider important as we cover the news and events impacting Israel and the Middle East.

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