Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Needed: Societal Change

Now that rumours of an upcoming general election ahead of schedule are circulating throughout Israel, it's important to take a step back and look at what precipitated such an idea.  Unlike many times in the past, the current governing coalition is quite stable.  There is no economic crisis that requires an urgent change in course.  There have been no personal scandals of any significance that might demand new elections. 
In fact, one might jump to the conclusion that it is the elevating tension with Iran that is the cause of the potential decision to dissolve the Knesset.  After beating the drums of wars for several months, Prime Minister Netanyahu has recently had to face down critical statements from the head of the army and the former head of the Shin Bet, both of whom directly denied that Iran is either a necessary or desirable target.  The idea of striking Iran to prevent further development of its nuclear program, an act that would likely trigger a regional war, might be a good impetus for calling elections to ensure that the government that pulls the trigger has popular support.
But no, that's not it.  Believe it or not, the reason behind the potential dissolving of the Knesset is the recent striking down by the High Court of Justice of the Tal Law, the legislation that allowed able-bodied Chareidim to avoid army service.  Draft exemptions based on being in full-time learning have always been controversial in Israel.  After all, most of the population considers them to be unfair and would do away with them in an instant if given the chance.  Unfortunately the Chareidi leadership doesn't agree.
Now that Yair Lapid has started his "Future" party, the issue has come even more to the fore since one plank in his platform is introducing a universal draft.  Momentum is building around this matter, helped in large part by the recent aggressiveness displayed by some elements in the Chareidi community when it comes to things like separate seating on buses and in public venues as well as their willingness to riot whenever they perceive any disrespect, intended or not.
Having read some of Lapid's public material, it's clear he's not Chareidi-baiting.  His platform, assuming he's sincere about it (he's a politician now, after all) is one demanding equality in the matter of the draft.  This might sound reasonable to most people but one of the psychological limitations of any group that has lived on entitlements is a vitriolic reaction when those entitlements, as unfair or unreasonable as some of them might be, are threatened.
Thus we have Moshe Gafni dismissing any alternatives to the Tal Law while Yisrael Eichler was so incensed by the idea of Chareidim being drafted that he became incoherent with rage:

 but for him to say I don’t hate haredim is like someone putting a kebab on the barbecue and saying I don’t hate lambs, or a duck hunter saying he doesn’t hate ducks or a fisherman saying he loves fish.

I don't know about you but I don't cook duck or fish because I hate them.  Quite the opposite actually.
Here's the basic problem: you have a society which, for almost three generations, has been handed a huge entitlement: they are able to sit and do nothing while avoiding army service and they get paid by the State which they are taught to villify to do it.  You have political leaders who will use any public forums they can to insist that this entitlement is a basic minimum that their community has coming to them.  They have religious leaders who, through the skewed information presented to them by their askanim, have invented two new principles of faith that have been annointed with yehareg v'al ya'avor status: not serving in the army and not working for a living.  Add traditional Jewish stubborness to this and it is clear that the situation will not change over night.
Consider a sudden change in the law that says that all eligible Chareidim have to go to the army tomorrow.  What might the consequences of such a move be?  Mass yeridah (some seculars might think that's a positive thing but it really isn't) and mass civil disobedience.  Is Israel prepared to deploy riot police all over Yerushalayim, Beit Shemesh, Bene Beraq and elsewhere?  Is there enough space in Israeli jails to hold all the Chareidim who will answer the clarion call of their leaders to "defend the Torah"?
A gradual start to such a program with a phase-in period like Lapid suggests would also not work.  According to the recent numbers, only 75% of secular Israelis eligible for army service are actually drafted.  There are numerous loopholes and possibilities for exemption.  Imagine Chareidi youth who are trained at splitting legal hairs being presented with all those opportunities.  How many will claim sore backs, bad eyes or possibly a brief case of tuberculosis?
Ultimately there is one way to effect such a societal change on the level needed: the government needs to approach the Chareidi community directly.  Forget the "Gedolim", forget their askanim and ignore their MK's.  Their agenda is to maintain the current entitlement situation despite how it has turned their followers into impoverished, unskilled batlanimi who thinking sitting around the Beis Medrash all day drinking coffee makes one a talmid chacham while their kids wonder if that mouldy piece of bread in the back of the fridge is for sharing. 
The one thing working for the Israeli government is this terrible leadership which, in its zeal to protect the "purity" of the "Torah camp" has led the Chareidim into a dead-end situation which is making so many of them miserable.  It seems that the best idea is to simply approach the average Chareidim en masse and try to reach out to them while vigorously fighting against the incredulous claims of their leadership and PR men.  Most Chareidim are, by any standard, reasonable people.  No Chareidi father wants to see his children hungry or dirty.  No Chareidi woman wants to think that the rest of her life will be spent living in the dark corner of an underground parking lot.  They surely want better and, like most oppressed population, are prevented from getting it by their leadership.  Perhaps a determined effort at circumventing it will result in a positive outcome - one in which Chareidim see that secular Israel is no longer the bogeyman society of the 1930's and 40's and that it is possible to live amongst the populace and be productive in society without compromising one's genuine religious standards.  And that would be the best thing to happen after the next election.


Sparrow said...

Possibly augmented by some kind of education for these talmidei chachamim? Maybe some kind of craft or trade? It's not enough to tell them or ask them to stop without giving them a viable alternative means of support. The army is just a few years, but a trade or line of work lasts for quite a bit longer.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Well that leads to the next question: how does one begin to enforce the basics of the state curriculum and create a vocational stream in their yeshivos without it being declared a "fascist assault on Torah"?

Tziki kedera said...

I don't know what kolls u know , but where i am they are all electric, buzzIng with torah, a pleasure to see.

Sparrow said...

Model it on R' Kook's school?