Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Sivan 5759, June 2 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Three Attacks on the Religious Community

At this time, it appears that there will be three core issues which will be used to attack the chareidi community of Israel in the next government: drafting yeshiva students ("the universal obligation for national service"), the imposition of secular studies in the chareidi educational system and setting up a national constitution. There will certainly be other issues, but these are the largest issues that we see as potential threats to our very existence as religious Jews and as a religious community in Israel.

Drafting yeshiva students has become something of a personal crusade of the Prime Minister-elect. Barak himself introduced a law in the last Knesset to force the draft of yeshiva students (though as Chief of Staff he defended the traditional exemption). Since then he has backtracked somewhat, saying, "I intend to fulfill my promise to draft yeshiva bochurim, but I will attempt to do so via consultations and not through [coercive] legislation."

We do not defend "draft dodgers" who do not truly learn Torah but pretend to do so in order to avoid army service. Certainly it would be better for them to truly learn, but if not, they have no right to avoid their legal obligation and thereby threaten the vast majority who really study Torah intensively and work much harder than any other group of their age.

The right and obligation to study Torah is not dependent on the leave of the Knesset or the Israeli government. This is an issue that defines our life and a threat to Torah study is a threat to our very existence. We cannot tolerate any significant compromise.

The same is true for any proposal to impose secular studies in our educational system at younger ages. We have always insisted on absolute control of our curriculum, and see it as vital. In fact, the graduates of our educational system are intellectually developed and fully mature, and their raw analytical and problem-solving abilities are better than those of the general Israeli system's graduates. Moreover their ethical and moral sensitivity is also developed, in contrast to the secular educational system. The technical skills that our graduates lack that graduates of the secular system have, are much easier to make up than the moral training that the secular graduates are missing. There is no room and no reason to compromise on this issue either, and it too is one in which we cannot tolerate any weakening of the status quo that has prevailed for thousands of years, in which we have exclusive control of our educational system.

A constitution for the State of Israel has been the goal of legal experts for the past fifty years. It is patently a means to limit the power of the Knesset by setting bounds to the laws that it may pass. In recent years it has been the rallying cry of those who want to limit the power of the religious parties in the Knesset, since it tips the balance of power away from the political arena, in which the religious community has influence, towards the legal system and especially the High Court which would interpret the constitution, in which the influence of the religious community is close to non-existent.

The Knesset is the most democratic institution in the State of Israel, and the attempt to transfer power from it to the High Court is an anti-democratic move. Many thoughtful non- religious leaders recognize the dangers in passage of constitutional law that does not have a broad consensus of support, and it is to be hoped that Barak and the new government will ensure that the large religious minority of the country is not alienated from the institutions of the State of Israel by power plays instigated by other, anti- religious minorities.

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