By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
While some Arab Christians in Israel are about to form a political party with a platform that specifically includes commitment to service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), a sizeable group of Hasidic gurus in Israel are planning a trip to the United States to lobby against their young men serving in the IDF. They’ll be accompanied by several ultra-Orthodox Members of Knesset.
While Christian Arabs seem to refuse to be ghettoized in the Jewish state and are even prepared to distance themselves from their Muslim Arab siblings, Hasidim are working hard to reinforce the walls of their self-imposed ghetto.
Jews in Tsarist Russia had many things to fear from the regime, but few of their burdens were more dreadful than conscription. Jews did all they could to avoid it, including bribing officials and injuring themselves to become unfit to serve. When all else failed, those liable to be called up would flee the country. Their descendants are today part of many Diaspora communities; others found their way to Palestine and helped to build the yishuv.
The Hasidim today seem to look at the Jewish state in the same way as their forbears looked at Tsarist Russia. Many will have nothing to do with Israel. They live here because they’re religiously committed to the land, but historically and politically they’re against the state. In fact, they’re likely to consider the existence of Israel as a scandalous obstacle to the advent of the Messiah. They vehemently denounce Zionism while enjoying the social and medical services that the Zionist state bestows on them.
Most Orthodox Jews, even when their piety may prompt them to accord the Hasidic leaders more respect than they deserve, are staunchly opposed to their anti-Zionist politics and most anxious that young Hasidim should serve in the IDF in the same way as do their own children.
That’s behind the current efforts in Israel to enforce military service for all Jewish citizens and the passionate opposition to it by the ultra-Orthodox. Seeing that demonstrations and riots against the government at home may not change the minds of most Israeli law makers, they’re now turning to the United States in the hope that the much mightier “tsar” Barack Obama will stop the lesser “tsar” Binyamin Netanyahu.
It’s, of course, most unlikely that the United States Administration will intervene, but Hasidim who live in America – many of whom are staunch anti-Zionists – will be pleased to provide funds and offer (im)moral support.
There’re occasional reports that the “refuseniks” may win not because of their actions but because the IDF may find it too cumbersome to accommodate the ritual demands of the potential recruits. The compromise may be community service for some – already on offer as an alternative – and turning a blind eye to the “exceptions.” For example, not only will ultra-Orthodox girls be exempt, but so will married men. As many of them marry in their late teens, they’re likely to escape conscription.
We’re often told that David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, granted exemption from military service to the ultra-Orthodox because there were very few of them at the time. He’s said to have thought that to preserve their way of life was the pious thing to do. In view of their later phenomenal numeric growth, attitudes have changed.