Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Sivan 5765 - June 22, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Army Service is About Social Engineering; not About Pikuach Nefesh

Now it is clear what the real reason for Israeli army reserve duty always was. Now that the Government has approved the new reserve law, the Knesset has approved its first reading, and it is expected to be fully approved by the end of the calendar year, it is clear what was behind the way things were done for so many years.

Today, all who serve in the IDF are required to serve as much as 30 days of reserve duty a year. Until 1985, they were on call until the age of 54, though by the end of 2004 this had been lowered to the age of 40.

According to the new law, all soldiers who serve in noncombat roles during their regular army service will not be required to do any reserve service. The proportion of the total number of active soldiers that this involves was not released, but it is certainly substantial. Those who serve in combat roles will generally serve no more than 14 days a year. No one over the age of 40 may be required to serve, though they are allowed to volunteer.

In addition, the Minister of Defense has said on numerous occasions that he expects to reduce the amount of mandatory service — currently three years — by five to seven months. Serious consideration is being given to doing away with the universal draft altogether, and converting to a professional, all-volunteer army.

What happened? Did the Middle East suddenly get safer? Is the threat any smaller?

The process of lowering the maximum age of reserve duty began in 1985, and even though there was a sharp upturn in violence with the start of the first intifadah in 1987 (which continued until the Oslo agreements in 1993), the age was lowered steadily through 1995 when it reached 45.

A change like this one is not made in a month or two. The decision to revise the approach to reserve duty was the result of a year's work by the Braverman Committee, which was obviously appointed while Yasser Arafat was in charge and the violence was continuing.

The report of the committee notes that, "the system of [army] reserves has made an important contribution to Israeli society, a contribution that is not less than its contribution to the military power of the IDF." The report further notes that there have been significant changes in the environment in which the IDF operates, "political, social, economic, and technologic."

Notice that it does not say anything about the military environment.

One could not ask for a clearer statement than this. Service in the IDF is not just a military act, and perhaps in most times not even mainly a military act for most people. It is a social and political act.

The IDF was meant — by the founding Zionist establishment — to serve and did serve as a melting pot. What that means is that its purpose was to form everyone into a common type of Israeli — a secular, Western Israeli. Service in the IDF was meant to provide a common experience and a bonding experience that would produce a "new" Israeli. Taking a month off from family and friends who tied everyone to their traditions, men spent a month a year creating a new shared experience that was meant to replace the shared Jewish tradition.

All this is precisely what chareidi Jewry has fought against.

We want unity among Jews, but within a shared ancient tradition, and respecting the heritage of each community. We do not want a melting pot that will produce secular sameness, but a coming together based on our shared Torah that we have had since Sinai. We hope at some point to recreate the spiritual highlights that we lost when we went into exile, not to replace it with decadent Western ways of life.

When Israelis always were able to challenge us by saying that we did not join the IDF, the assumption was that army service was a military response to an imminent threat of pikuach nefesh. How can we shirk our responsibility to save the Jewish people?

Our perceptive leaders always said that the military aspect of army service masks the ulterior motives of the political leadership. But this was not easy to show, and impossible to use as a quick answer in a heated dialogue.

But now, they have said it themselves. And in any case, the whole issue should be gone in a few years.

Now perhaps our kiruv workers will have an easier time.

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