Their Fair Share - The Jewish Voice
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Friday, December 9, 2022

Their Fair Share

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Pictured above: An Israeli, and a Jew, and a defender of Zion—no apologies, no contradictions.Those of you who follow Israeli affairs (and what better way is there to do that from outside Israel than reading the Jewish Voice?) are probably aware that the Tal Law was declared unconstitutional a few months ago, and the Knesset is now scrambling to find a workable solution to the dilemma created by that law’s absence. For those of you scratching your heads right now, the gist of the matter is this: Israel has always tried to strike that delicate balance between being a fair, equitable democratic country, and a Jewish state where Jews are free to Jew all they can Jew. Which makes sense, because if the State of Israel doesn’t go out of its way to defend the right of its citizens to live a fully observant Jewish life, how is it any different from the lands of our Exile? In any event, the Tal Law was a law that basically exempted Israeli chareidim (“ultra-Orthodox” Jews) from military service, allowing them to remain in yeshiva, and receive government funds to support their families while they learn.

This is doubly aggravating for Israelis who don’t immerse themselves in Torah, because they see their countrymen not contributing to the nation’s defense (at least not tangibly), nor to its economic welfare (i.e. they’re learners, not earners), yet still living off the government dole. The fact is that these people who dedicate themselves to Torah study full time put their hearts and souls into their learning, ultimately to the benefit of us all. But because they’re not doing the actual grunt work of sustaining the Zionist enterprise, they are maligned by some as freeloaders. I wonder, when our ancestors were slaves in Egypt, did they resent the tribe of Levi, who were exempted from the rigors of forced labor and permitted to engage in spiritual pursuits?

Let’s make this simple. To my secular brothers: Disparaging the importance of Torah scholarship does nothing to further the cause of national unity. Whether or not you believe that all those students in yeshiva bring divine aegis upon the State of Israel, Torah has been our people’s lifeblood, sustaining the Nation of Israel for thousands of years of exile. So maybe there’s something to it. And to my black-hatted mishpucheh, what I’d like to say is this: If you think that spending your entire adult life with your nose in a book is somehow doing your fair share, while your “less religious” compatriots shed blood, sweat, and tears to protect your freedom to sit and learn all day, you are sorely mistaken.

We should probably clarify something at this point: A large segment of Israel’s orthodox Jews (including the “ultra” kind) enlist in the Israel Defense Forces, many of them serving in combat units with distinction. So there’s nothing the secular Israelis can do that the chareidim can’t, though specific areas of halakha (Jewish law) preclude certain work scenarios. But that’s the balance I was talking about. The balance shouldn’t be exempting religious Jews from their share of the nation’s burden, it should be seeing to it that their needs vis-à-vis kashrut, modesty, and holiday/Sabbath observance are accommodated to the greatest extent possible. In other words, they should receive the same rights they strive to defend for their fellow Jews.
Bottom line: The draft in Israel should apply to everyone, or it should apply to no one. Either Israel is supported by a volunteer military and civilian workforce, or everyone pitches in, and those chareidim who aren’t already doing so, pick up their share of the tab.

For those who as a matter of personal principle cannot engage in military service, an alternative means for them to fulfill their national service requirement should be offered. But we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that one of the greatest leaders in Jewish history, King David himself, was not simply a pious monarch. He was a statesman, yes, and a Torah scholar, and a poet, and a warrior; an army general on the front lines fighting for his people, ready to lead by example and even lay down his life for his people if it ever came to that.

Is there any nobler example a Jew could aspire to than that?

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