A couple of years ago Jewish American blogger Jill asked me to write about haredim and army exemptions. Then in April, a young haredi man left an anonymous comment on that post. I like the way that he appears open about his reasons, even though he seems to realize that some appear superficial.
This is an extremely contentious topic. Sometimes I fear that we are headed for a civil war. My intention is to provide a platform for honest, open and above all respectful dialogue on this topic. Haredim are part of a system that has been in place for decades, and it is not a simple thing to make changes.
Please keep this in mind if you choose to respond.
Here is the comment, with only minor edits for clarity:
I’m in a Chareidi yeshiva, and I think that mainstream Chareidi yeshiva-bochur opinion around me and my friends is:
I am glad to live in Israel and glad that it’s a Jewish state (it could be more Jewish but it’s not bad) and I’d be very happy, even honored, to protect our people by joining the army, in theory. There are just a few issues stopping me:
- The picture I get from my friends, my family and just about everyone is that religious standards in the army are not yet exactly appropriate for a Yeshiva bochur, vis-a-vis women, kashrus, negative influence from people around you, etc. I’ve heard that the IDF is trying to integrate chareidim but apparently it is far from the level required for the mainstream to join.
- As I am taught, learning Torah is very important, and I am glad to have the opportunity to spend many years in the beis hamidrash becoming a talmid chacham, and I also truly believe that it is in the country’s interest to let me do that, as I’ve been taught that our Torah is a just-as-necessary component in providing for our security.
- It’s not at all common in my circles to go to the army, so I will have no friends there, I will feel very different from the people there, people will look at me funny when I come back home, I will be considered part of a different ‘circle’ and it will be hard to rejoin my circle (including but not limited to for shidduchim and yeshivos).
- Stam, we weren’t raised to be combat soldiers like our brothers in dati-leumi and chiloni (national-religious and secular) circles, so it would be very hard and very unnatural for me to go the the army. Though I would have no problem doing non-combat duty.
- Therefore, for now, I will remain in the beis medrash, even though it means choosing a longer-term path (learning) which involves many sacrifices (lack of job opportunities, poverty, etc.).
- There’s nothing wrong with working, assuming that the worker is not ‘cut out’ for learning, and/or his financial situation does not allow for him to learn; I have many friends who will work in one way or another; I may too. But I’m glad that I am still learning.
- I wish that the army was a better option for chareidim; and secondly, I wish that it was easier for those who wish to enter the workforce; right now there are problems because most of us don’t do the army, don’t take bagruyot (matriculation exams), and also it is hard to find places to work that are suitable for chareidim, because the work culture in many places is very inappropriate, and also because people discriminate against chareidim by not hiring them or by paying them less.
- I know that there are people with more extreme views, but not much more extreme, and there are also people with more liberal views. (I don’t think there is anyone who doesn’t want to protect that State because it should not exist, except for a couple of Neturei Karta meshuga’im.)
So, do you believe this represents mainstream thinking among haredim? If you believe that there should no longer be exemptions for studying in yeshiva, how would you respond to this young man’s concerns?
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Interview with My Son on Hesder Accommodations in the Army