Whilst contemplating the increasing likelihood that, in the not too distant future, the State of Israel will be governed by a chareidi led government, we need to realize that several developments could possibly take place which would confront the State with a most dangerous situation and an inherent paradox. Strangely enough, yet fully comprehensible, it will get a stronger Jewish identity but, simultaneously, discover that it no longer has the power to defend itself. At the same time, the State will be confronted with a crisis in its universities, especially in the departments of humanities, with far reaching consequences. This will be followed by a backlash which will cause the dwindling secular community to turn its back on Judaism. While Israel will be more Jewish in its approach towards all matters of State, a good part of its citizens will become even less Jewish.
As is well known, over the past years there has been a major increase in the numbers of Yeshiva students who do not serve in the Israeli army. In the very early days of the State an agreement was reached between Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and the celebrated sage and leader of the Chareidi community, Rabbi Yeshayahu Karelitz z.l. known as the Chazon Ish, that yeshiva students would not have to serve in the army as long they were studying Torah full time. The Chazon Ish’s main reason for insisting on this arrangement was his desire for the Yeshiva world to be re-built after the enormous losses incurred in the Holocaust. Most of the Yeshiva world in Europe had been destroyed and the need to rebuild this world was of the gravest importance. He felt that only when a new generation of young Yeshiva students dedicated themselves to full-time Torah study would there be an opportunity to put this world back on its feet. At the time this involved only about 400 students, and even Ben Gurion, although a secular Jew himself, realized that, as part of ensuring a Jewish future, there was a need for Talmudic study to continue. He therefore agreed to these exemptions.
Today, however, due to the high birthrate in the Chareidi world there are approximately 50.000 Yeshiva students exempted from military service. Yet, this is still small in percentage terms, currently accounting for 11 percent of draft exemptions, since the overall number of Israeli citizens has also greatly increased. But, as we stated in our earlier essay, in just a few more years the chareidi community will have expanded so much that the facts on the ground will drastically change. We will then be confronted with a much larger Yeshiva student body and predictions are that it will comprise of nearly a quarter of the entire draft. Should this situation continue in the foreseeable future, it will be even higher, with devastating consequences for the Israeli army. It will no longer be able to function. As such, a time may come when fifty percent of all eligible Israeli youngsters will not serve. A chareidi government will then be left with a State it does not really want and, even more tragic, cannot defend since it will not have enough soldiers. (2)
Obviously it could be argued that, by that time, the modern-orthodox, dati leumi community will not only have increased but it is well known that its young men become the most motivated soldiers Israel has ever seen and consequently such a situation will not actually come about. Whether this is true or not only time will tell but it will definitely mean that the government will depend on a large number of people for its defense with whom it has major differences of opinion concerning the future of Jewish Zionist State. In this scenario the soldiers will be much more Zionistic than the government. (The first signs of this problem are already coming to the surface as the Kadima led government is having major differences of opinion with the settlers and the dati-leumi community concerning the task of the Israeli army and its philosophy.) This will create enormous tension between the government and its military leadership. It will not just be a question of which policy should be adopted regarding security and war, but it will infringe on the very question of what it is that the Israeli army is defending – a Zionist State or a State which was, from its very inception, rejected by those who are now leading it. (And, to further complicate matters one should be aware that there is a strong tendency in some chareidi circles to prefer a kind of non-Jewish State in the land of Israel which will be sympathetic to the Jews and give them full autonomy.)
Yet, one should recognize that the other side of the coin is in no way any more rosy. Draft dodging in the secular community is becoming an increasing phenomenon. While it is now a marginal but growing occurrence among secular elites, Israeli celebrities and other groups, illegally evading army service is actually becoming a major problem. More and more secular Israelis no longer want to serve in the army. They have lost the impetus to do so. The reason is obvious: they have lost the Jewish-Zionist connection. Due to the lack of Jewish education and Zionist spirit, they wonder why they should risk their lives for the State. Many of them are dreaming of leaving the country for good and discovering their future on other continents. This is the logical outcome of the disastrous way in which Israeli governments, over the years, have dealt with the teachings of Judaism. How can you expect young people to love the land of Israel and be proud Jews when you have done little to stimulate it?
Lately we have heard about tens of thousands of Israeli youth who go to Ayia Napa at the Cyprus beach resort where they create havoc. In a drunken state they destroy hotel furniture, alienate the local citizens, make everybody’s life miserable and generally give the Jews a bad name. When criticized by their non-Jewish hosts, they curse and call them anti-Semites! Most of these youngsters are post high school and, when asked why they are behaving like this, respond that since they will soon be drafted into the army and could possibly die, they would like to live their lives to the fullest now (and this is called life!) (3) True, fortunately at the moment they are still a minority and most future secular soldiers do not behave like that, but are in fact highly motivated. Sadly though, since those described above are already a disproportional large minority it should not be surprising when their numbers grow into a majority. Especially since nobody seems to do anything about it.
Again, while there are also some major problems in the Chareidi community (including some behavioral ones), these sort of incidents do not happen among them. In general they are better behaved and, although we do encounter some violence among certain factions, it does not come close to what happens in parts of the secular society. Neither are these factions growing as rapidly. Additionally, one should realize that chareidi Yeshiva students do not serve in the army because they are looking for an easy luxurious life. They are dedicated to the study of Torah and live a full Jewish life often in poverty and under difficult circumstances. (4) (Obviously there is a most serious problem when some people risk their lives and others do not. This matter is of the gravest importance. Still, it cannot be denied that many soldiers have army jobs which do not put them in dangerous situations either).
This brings us to the academic world. Part of the problem of the secular community is that university studies, especially in the humanities departments, (perhaps unknowingly?), add to this problem and in fact encourage it. Many, although definitely not all, of the studies offered create a weltanschaaung which encourages young students to abandon the notion of self sacrifice, love for the country and, even more so, of Jewish values. This is, to a great extent, due to Postmodernist (5) theories in which we find notions that argue that everybody should do what they like and that love for ones fellow man, sacrificing oneself for ones country or personal beliefs are problematic and to be questioned. Like with many studies in modern philosophies, young students are not yet able to differentiate between theoretical discussion and practical application and actually believe that society can continue to prosper without sacrifice and unselfishness. Still, history proves that it cannot but, before the young generation and some of their teachers will realize this, much irreparable damage will already have been done. As such we must realize that draft dodging is directly related to what happens in the halls of some of the Israeli Universities and High Schools. (Even the argument of refusing to serve in the so called territories is linked to this.)
Strangely enough, the consequences of all this will find unusual bedfellows within the chareidi Community. While not exactly interested in postmodernism as a justification for draft dodging, a chareidi led government would prefer to cancel such secular studies for its own reasons: Heresy. After all, a chareidi led government will object to all attempts to undermine Jewish religious beliefs. It may even try and succeed in outlawing most studies in the humanities departments of the universities. However this would correctly be seen as a kind of Israeli dictatorship and consequently many bright young people will leave the country, together with some of Israel’s most intellectual teachers, to study and teach elsewhere. No doubt this will create unprecedented animosity towards Judaism and drive many more out of the Israeli State. As a result, the chareidi government will become continually stronger but, at the same time, will destroy the image of Judaism. As such, it will advance a situation in complete contradiction to its intent i.e. more respect for Judaism and Jewish values. Judaism will be seen as a backward religion, scared to its bones of any intellectual challenge and becoming more or less irrelevant to most Jews in the world. Judaism will join the ranks of other fundamentalist religions and, as we will argue later, lose its very spirit for open debate and great intellectual and spiritual depth.
Yet, one cannot ignore the fact that many of the philosophies taught in the universities contradict the values of Judaism. This, as we mentioned before, has far reaching consequences for the survival of the State of Israel. Without love for Judaism and the Zionist enterprise, the State will not survive. As such we must argue that the State of Israel finds itself in a catch-22. To continue as a secular state it will ultimately undermine its Jewish Zionist spirit. But, if let by a chareidi leadership, it will paradoxically end up in a very similar way: Disintegration and possible collapse.
To be continued.
(1) For the first part of this series, see our website: www.cardozoschool.org/: Thoughts to Ponder, no: 212
(2) It could obviously be argued that, by that time, warfare would mainly or exclusively depend on sophisticated technology and no longer on the numbers of soldiers. One wonders whether the chareidi leaders of today are counting on this scenario for tomorrow. Would this is indeed be the case then matters would look totally different from what is being described in this essay. )
(3) See the Jerusalem Posts essay by Larry Derfner: The Breeding of Israeli Louts 9.8.07 and the Jerusalem Report of September 3, 07: Still answering the Call by Harrison Kraus Cohen and Eetta Prince-Gibson.
(4) A most disturbing phenomenon, however, is the fact that some so called Yeshiva students who are not studying Torah full-time, have jumped on the band-wagon while not actually being eligible and sadly the chareidi leadership is not properly dealing with this injustice. Several years ago the army introduced the nachal chareidi program to solve the problem. This is a training program especially geared for chareidi students who are not studying Torah full-time but want to continue living a chareidi life style even whilst in the army. The idea is that after they finish their basic training they will join the Israeli workforce. This should be greatly encouraged. Another disturbing fact is that a more materialistic life style is growing in certain factions of the yeshiva community. Still this is not the case with the vast majority.
(5) The definition of Postmodernism is far from clear. It is in general a reaction towards earlier philosophy and moral teachings. It would be wrong to argue that all of it is reactionary. Still it cannot be denied that it is often seen as a protest to conventional values. I have used the phrase in that sense of the word. This may not be completely fair. Postmodernism is a serious subject which needs much more attention in religious educational circles.