Haredim and Army Exemptions

'Israeli soldiers' photo (c) 2009, llee_wu - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/Here’s what Jill from Writes Like She Talks said about me:

If you want to get an excellent idea of how this issue applies practically, A Mother in Israel is a fantastic blog – well-written, by a mom of five (is it five?! yes, not four, but not six I think) who made aliyah many years ago but actually grew up part of her life in the Midwest. I’ve exchanged numerous emails with her and other personal information and assure you that if you want a real flavor of life after moving permanently to Israel, as a modern Orthodox Jew (though I don’t know if she actually would refer to herself that way but I think that’s pretty much how we’d classify her here – feel free to comment on that Mother in Israel), hers is a good one to read.

Actually, six is right. Thank you Jill! An NPR report about haredim who attend the army inspired Jill to write the following:

The NPR segment identifies the following reasons why the ultra-Orthodox want the exemption from service: so they can study, so they can make money, so they can avoid danger and because, according to NPR, they see military service as “immoral.”

I didn’t get the same reasons from the transcript she linked to (I don’t have patience to listen to the actual radio report, and my house is too noisy anyway) but I will respond to each one.

  • Study: Do haredi men want an exemption so they can study in yeshiva, or do they stay in yeshiva so that they can avoid the army? We have a chicken-and-egg question here.
  • Work: When the student said that his parents wouldn’t object if he went to work instead of learning in yeshiva, NPR seems to have missed the point that once you defer your call-up in order to study in yeshiva, you can’t work or enroll in university. In other words, the haredi parents referred to in the story objected to army service, not to working for a living.
  • Danger: Avoiding danger is obviously a major factor, and needless to say downplayed by the haredi leadership.
  • Immorality: I don’t believe that haredim consider army service to be immoral in and of itself. They are certainly not pacifists. When haredim talk about immorality in the army, I understand them to be referring to contact with women (something like 7% of all female soldiers have abortions each year) and to a lesser degree Shabbat and kashrut. A related and even more important factor is exposure–the charedim are afraid of losing large numbers to secular culture should the draft exemption for yeshiva study be eliminated.

Jill continues with her own comments:

While all those goals are served by not serving, there is another reason why the ultra-Orthodox don’t serve that wasn’t mentioned: the ultra-Orthodox don’t believe that the state of Israel should exist before the coming of the Messiah. And so they won’t defend it.

This used to be much more of an issue than it is today. As my husband says, the haredim (except for the most extreme) have become more Zionist, and the rank-and-file tend to be hard-line right-wingers, while the “post-Zionist” extreme left wing has adopted the views of the early haredim: They now consider it acceptable to avoid the army, and they don’t believe there is a need for a Jewish state. Excuse me while I crawl back into my apolitical hole for a while.


  1. Thank you thank you thank you, dear. đŸ™‚
    The last paragraph would definitely reflect my failure to make it back to Israel in 23 years since my firsthand knowledge is based on 1984 Israel.
    The thing about it being immoral actually comes from the NPR abstract about the piece, it appears on the NPR page for the segment (I have a link in my post to it somewhere).
    Again – thanks for taking the time. It’s always so hard knowing that they have to boil things down and the real vibrancy of the issue just doesn’t make it and instead I feel like it’s a way of picking on people who are different rather than really giving a story about what otherwise doesn’t make sense to people unfamiliar with Israel and Jews.

  2. Well, we can definitely consider adding that category next year… meanwhile, what about small or contribution or best of the rest… etc? đŸ™‚

  3. mominisrael says

    Thanks Jill. I can only give my own perspective.
    Ezzie–I think I suggested it earlier on. Don’t worry, I’ll live.

  4. I have written a number of posts in the past about what I call the zionification of the Haredim. It is a clear trend. Integration is slow, but it is happening.

  5. mominisrael says

    Go ahead and guess LOL.

  6. Regular Anonymous says

    Are you really from the Midwest? I lived in various locations in the Midwest for many years.

  7. Anonymous says

    There are plenty in the army.
    From what I read on some site somewhere, they are still against zionism, but they want to protect fellow Jews and so they’re in the army also.
    Like this one http://www.nahalharedi.org/background_about_nahal_haredi.php

  8. Hopefully one should avoid hareidi-bashing, stereotyping, and oversimplified generalizations here. Some parts of the hareidi community have been doing army service for years now, before Nachal Hareidi. Ger, Vishnitz & Chabad Chassidim, for example. True, they would do so ONLY after being married & with one or more children, usually, and that did cut down on the time they serve. But the main reason is for the morality issues that you list – the potential for corrupting a religious lifestyle by excessive mingling with the opposite sex DOES indeed exist in the army. To a great extent, both the Hesder and Nachal Hareidi programs have alleviated some of this, but it is foolish to think that there are no problems here. That said, I salute any religious soldier who serves in Tzahal, whether it be Hesder, Nachal Haredi, Miluim Shlav Bet, or the full 3-year giyus [enlistment].

  9. mominisrael says

    I reread my post and I can’t figure out where you think I was bashing haredim–I think I was respectful and objective as the mother of teenage non-haredi sons can be. My readers can draw their own conclusions. If haredim do serve a short time, as you mention and I know that you are correct, they are usually not in combat units. And where in my post did I imply that the concerns of the haredim aren’t justified? I still think I presented the concerns from their point of view, admittedly as I see it.

  10. While I mostly agree with your post, this article by Obadiah Shoher presents the haredim in somewhat different light http://samsonblinded.org/blog/not-true-rabbis.htm Shoher argues against haredim isolating themselves from other Jews instead of bringing the religion to masses.

  11. Anonymous says

    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:
    – 1) – 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
    – 2) 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
    – 3) 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)
    – 4) Stam, we weren’t raised to be combat soldiers like our brothers in dati-leumi and chiloni 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, 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 coupla Neturei Karta meshuga’im.)
    – Have a chag kasher ve’sameach!