Israeli draft pits secular Jews vs. ultra-Orthodox


Deep in the heart of Mea Shearim, a Jerusalem bastion of hardline ultra-Orthodox Jews, hundreds of bearded young men in black suits have their noses burrowed into books, immersed in biblical study and oblivious to their surroundings.

They are the creme de la creme of a cloistered community, the Harvard of the ultra-Orthodox world, who are expected neither to work for a living nor serve in the military with other Israelis. But it’s not just the students at the prestigious Mir Yeshiva for whom prayer and study of scripture is a full-time job. Nearly the entire community has been granted sweeping exemptions that have infuriated the general public.

These young men, and their sheltered lifestyle, are at the heart of a battle that is tearing Israel apart in a clash between tradition and modernity, religion and democracy. The fight centers on whether ultra-Orthodox males should be drafted into the military along with other Jews, but it really is about a much deeper issue: the place of Judaism in the Jewish state.

The question has come to the fore as the government races to meet a Supreme Court-ordered deadline to revamp the nation’s draft law. In its current form, secular males must perform three years of compulsory service when they turn 18. Ultra-Orthodox men, like the young scholars at the Mir Yeshiva, have special exemptions that allow them to continue studying in their isolated enclaves while collecting government subsidies.

For their supporters, seminary students are preserving a tradition that has served as the very bedrock of Judaism for thousands of years.

“Jews need to study the Bible. That is what makes us unique as a people,” Yerach Tucker, a 30-year-old spokesman for the ultra-Orthodox community, said proudly as he guided a visitor through the Mir Yeshiva. “It is the essence of our lives.”

But polls show the vast majority of Israelis, who risk their lives and put their careers on hold while serving in the military, object strongly to the arrangement, and many see it as the essence of everything that is wrong with their country.

This resentment has fueled a broader high-decibel culture war. In recent months, secular activists have rebelled against what they consider growing religious coercion by the ultra-Orthodox, such as attempts to enforce gender segregation on buses and public places, and a religious backlash by ultra-Orthodox who feel unfairly persecuted.

Written By: Aron Heller
continue to source article at


  1.  “have special exemptions that allow them to continue studying in their isolated enclaves”

    WTF are they studying, pitifully primitive scribblings of ancient ignoramuses with less content than in one college semester?!
    It’s hijacking legitimate words like that is what makes this shit happen.

  2. That’s what monks do. 

    As long as I am not involved in any shape or form (paying taxes and what not), I don’t really care what they do or do not do. 

  3. “They also note that the government subsidizes areas that they have no interest in, such as culture, sports and the arts.”
    I also note that the government subsidizes areas that I have no interest in, such as bible ‘studies’. I don’t live in Israel anymore, but my current government subsidizes baseball, that I have no interest in and I will fight to death against such unfair use of my tax money.

  4. I have the perfect solution to this problem. Round up all of the ultra-orthodox Jews, move them near the Gaza border, declare that “If you don’t wish to serve in the military, then the military sees no need to protect you,” and then we’ll all a look at how well their “power of prayer” protects them from the incoming missiles.

  5. I can’t understand how any reasonable person wouldn’t think it fair and just to shoulder the same burdens and share the same rights as everyone else in society. Within that framework you are free to do what you want. Of course forcing them to serve in the military isn’t an ethic solution, but neither is forcing secular people to serve. But it’s not like there are not dozens of reasonable compromises. 
    Then again, living in a bubble, with only money pouring in and opinions pouring out, doesn’t exactly breed the most open-minded people. So perhaps I am expecting too much. 

    PS: The ultra-Orthodox calling not being allowed special privilege based on their beliefs and preferences persecution is an insult to the word. And a mockery of people that have actually been persecuted for their beliefs. The Holocaust was persecution, the Spanish Inquisition persecuted people, Protestant monarchies marginalising catholic subjects was persecution (perhaps a grey area).

  6. These people must stop living at the expenses of the taxpayers, therefore they should work for a living like everybody else; also they should contribute to the defense of the country. Once done this, they can read the Bible as much as they wish, but not during working hours or while doing army duties.

  7. “…more than a quarter of all Israeli first graders today are ultra-Orthodox.”
    This is where the crime starts.

  8. Disqualify them from the benefit system

    Astonishing similarity to the Islamic madrassa model? 

  9. “Leaders speak proudly of centuries-old traditions of prayer and learning
    that they believe has allowed the Jewish people to survive such
    tragedies as the Spanish Inquisition, European pogroms and the

    I hate to point this out, but the vast majority of Jewish people DIDN’T survive the Inquisitions, Pogroms and Holocausts. That’s kind of why they were such a bad thing.

  10. The real problem here, as with all religions, is the indoctrination and poisoning of empty minds. The young are force fed dangerous beliefs under threat of hell fire and by the time they are in their early teens they are beyond all hope. Religion incubates verminous self replicating parasites that spread intolerance and hatred of anyone who has a different view. 
      How to break this circle? Instead of maintaining religion as a profitable business model or secure job for life for fanatical bigots cut the financial support and tax religious institutions as we tax businesses. The whole edifice would crumble. Get the religious out of politics, cut off their influence and lobbying power, bleed them of money. Stop sponsoring dysfunctional states like pakistan. Bleed religions, and those who use them to seize temporal power, of the money and watch it wither away. 

  11. Here’s a solution – why not compel them, using the full force of the state? Lock them up if you have to. They’re not contributing anything to Israeli society, so what damage exactly would their mass non-cooperation do? It seems that they’re ALREADY in a state of mass non-cooperation and should be brought to heel for the sake of fairness and equality.

    It’s not like Israel is exactly averse to displays of heavy-handed compulsive force after all…

    Though, to be honest, I am against all forms of national service and military conscription. I don’t think anyone, whatever their religious beliefs or lack of them, should be forced into the army. But that’s a separate issue. While such laws are in force, they should apply equally. It’s that simple.

  12. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy situation.  This issue goes much deeper than simply getting the orthodox men (and women by the way) to draft.  As a member of the Israeli society I also had to “do my time” in the army while orthodox girls my age were given a pass.  
    What most of us actually want is not necessarily that they join the army. Fact is, having all those orthodox men in the army and accommodating all their religious needs may cause more trouble than it’s worth.However, they still need to serve the country in some way. They could be made to work in hospitals or in other branches of government such as fire fighters, emergency services etc. And this is exactly where the depth of problem is seen.  Some of the orthodox Jews and almost all of the ultra orthodox ones don’t accept the government and it’s rules as having any relevance to them. Only God and God’s laws should be followed and anything else is just background noise to them.  I don’t know what the world media shows about this issue (I assume not very much), but the religious leaders here have actually compared their “students” being forced to serve in the army to sins that according to the Jewish law you should rather die than break them. So as you can understand, this is not going to go quietly away.    

  13. How about going back to David Ben-Gurion’s idea?

    Exempt 400 of them from all civic service, the rest have to be just like other Israeli’s, doing service, working, paying taxes etc. Let the ultra-orthodox choose which of their number get the exemption. Stand back and watch the fireworks.

    By the way, has anyone done a comparison of Ultra-orthodox Judaism, Islamism and Christism, examining the similarities and (if there are any) differences?

  14. “Many Haredi men lack basic skills, like rudimentary math, because their independent school systems barely teach them”.

    This is hardly surprising – open education is the enemy of religion. Talking snakes and apples of knowledge are the stuff of nightmares to the religious.

    But it then goes on to say:
    “Inclusion has been successful in some areas however. The army has
    designed a number of roles specifically for the needs of ultra-Orthodox
    soldiers, including a segregated infantry unit as well as computer,
    technology and intelligence units.”

    Computer, technology, and intelligence? These people lack basic skills in maths yet they give them these kinds of roles? The army of Israel is screwed if it relies on these people.

  15. The army really doesn’t rely on these people, but one of the main roles of the army in Israel is to prepare the young 18 year’s old to the reality of life in Israel.  In a country where every aspect of your life has some connection to the army it really helps to have an inside knowledge of how it works.  

    The fact that these people are getting some advanced education in the army will help in their future integration as contributing members of the society.  Without teaching them computer skills in the army (including some English and math) they will not be able to find work and support their (too big) families. Which in turn means that even more tax payer money will go to support them.  

  16. I propose the following:  Effective immediately, only one son per orthodox family gets to be a religious student on welfare.  All others go into the regular school system, and later, into the army. Let the family choose which of their several sons stays in the religious arena.  Welfare is cut off for those not in the army or at a secular school (learning things like basic math).  If you fail at school, you get no welfare.  A family who does not agree can fund the idle sons out of their own pockets.  If the non-chosen sons are of an age to be in the army now, they may have to attend school to bring up their general education, but that will help them find jobs after the army.

  17. Here’s an interesting fact that I have NEVER seen mentioned in any book or TV program etc concerning the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The Wall is split into two sections, one for men and one for women
    Twice as many women as men visit the wall. However the women’s section is not half of the total length but only a third. So twice as many visitors have to make do with only half the available space. From my photos you can see the congestion that results. I think this is an example of the second-class nature of women in the Jewish religion (not the only religion to have this view), Perhaps there is a reasonable excuse, who knows.

  18. Fundamentalists get away with generational child abuse. The evidence is everywhere from Northern Ireland to Afghanistan to Israel. In the case of Israel the Orthodox promoters are the enemies of the state which is more in peril from their dangerous backwards ways than any external threats such as the imagined Iranian ones.

  19. There will need to be a radical re-education of these people before any progress can be made.Because they only study academic subjects up until the age of 14 they do not possess general knowledge or academic skills above that level.They have no professionals in any field.They are all basically at middle secondary school level in everything other than their ‘holy book’.Those that have suggested only say the first son studies after 14 might be on to something.But are these people prepared to open up their whole society to science and rational discourse? Somehow i doubt it.Netanyahu will need to propose a root and twig reorganisation of their whole thought process to bring this about and it would take several generations to complete.

  20. The Israeli Draft includes women. So how come this article focuses solely on the inclusion of jewish-extremist men?

  21. The Israeli draft excludes married women. My guess is that ‘Jewish-extremist’ women are already married by the age of joining the army.

  22. I couldn’t have access to your pictures of the Wailing Wall but it is not surprising that women are discriminated by religions. The Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) are particularly misogynistic and tend to control their women under any pretext. Apart from the problems in the Muslim world with regard to women, there has been similar problems in the West where there is much Muslim immigration, also in Jerusalem Orthodox Jews have sought to relegate women to the back of public buses and not long ago an Orthodox spat at a schoolgirl for not dressing “decently” Due to the protests from secular citizens, the government of Israel has taken some steps to prevent these abuses. I don’t know if these measures have been successful or not.

  23. I couldn’t have access to your pictures of the Wailing Wall but it is not surprising that women are discriminated by religions. The Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) are particularly misogynistic and tend to control their women under any pretext. Apart from the problems in the Muslim world with regard to women, there has been similar incidents in the West where there is much Muslim immigration, also in Jerusalem Orthodox Jews have sought to relegate women to the back of public buses and not long ago an Orthodox spat at a schoolgirl for not dressing “decently” Due to the protests from secular citizens, the government of Israel has taken some steps to prevent these abuses. I don’t know if these measures have been successful or not.
    — El dom, 8/7/12, Disqus <> escribió:</>

  24. The cases of child abuse I know are on the part of Roman Catholic clerics – thousands of cases all over the world in different periods of time. Also in the Muslim world with respect to young girls forced to marry middle aged men. So far I haven’t heard any case of Israeli children being abused by Orthodox Jews.

  25. israeli Parliament Ahmad Tibi (muslim) rejects imposition of arabs to be drafted national/army service. when said to him that community service is a winch to receiving entitlements, he replied “there is no greater lie than this, shattered at face of reality. A in liberal democracy there is no connection between civilian rights to obligations. and army service is not an obligation at least not for arabs.” however he does not oppose national service voluntarily. 

    like haredim, arabs enjoy similar entitlements. they don’t even pay taxes.  

  26. A very simple principle should apply in the case of the Israeli Ultra-Orthodox:  one legal code should should apply to ALL citizens of Israel, without regard to religion, ethnicity, race, color, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, or gender. 

    No special benefits should exist for ANY group or class or sect when it comes to tax treatment  or eligibility for welfare.  As regards to compulsory military service, individuals could apply for exemption due to personal conscience or religious belief, and could be channeled into some alternative form of service.  Individuals can legitimately make a claim of being a Conscientious Objector–the problem arises when such status is automatically conferred to members of a particular sect, class, or group.

    This would be a difficult reform to enact in the Israeli context, but the notion of equal treatment under law is a bedrock legal and ethical principle that would give those seeking reform the moral high-ground.  Some previous comments are so hostile to the Ultra-Orthodox that they are not only impractical as a political matter in Israel, but also present an ethical problem in singling out the Ultra-Orthodox in a punitive manner.

    Equality under law is the way to go–politically, morally, ethically, practically, fiscally, demographically–on every level, it is the simplest, clearest and best way for secular Israelis to make the argument that the status quo is untenable. 

  27. Please provide a link. Arabs don’t pay taxes? Or don’t HAVE to pay taxes? This is news for me. What I know is that the haredim parasites force my low income old relatives to go visit people in hospital by taxi (not tax deductible). God seemd to dislike vehicles larger than a cab on Shabat.

  28. What a fall has there been since 1948 with its kibbutzim aspirations; tragic.

  29. I’m not Isreali so I won’t comment on what they should or should not do. It’s their problem. But reading their scripture it is obvious that their “nation” is based on their god commanding them into military action to kill the neighbours, steal the lands and keep the virgins so it’s hard to understand why an “orthdox” jew would avoid being part of the army which is mandated to do that in modern times.

  30. If the US didn’t send military financial aid to Pakistan, the Iranians, Chinese or Russians would instead. I’m not convinced cutting it off would make things there greatly better. I don’t think it would make them as much worse as some think, though.

    More pertinently it would also reduce US industrial-military influence over strategic interests, so it’s very unlikely to happen, whatever the rhetoric.

  31. Possibly, part of the reason for the ultra-Orthodox having been allowed to maintain a kind of sacred cow status so long is their role as keepers of the holy flame -the high priests of one of the vital pillars of justification for the existence of the state of Israel: The Promised Land© promised by the Jewish god to his Chosen People™. .

    Ironically, this view is now perhaps held by more non-Jews than Jews themselves: Specifically the bible(t)humpers in the US bible belt. Secular Jews, quietly (not too loud because it in part, if not largely, underpins carte blanche US support for Israel) disavow it in embarrassment of its absurdity.  Our favorite Jews honoris causae Hitch and Harris loudly (“stridently” and “offensively”) ridiculed its absurdity in public.

    Can we take this as, what Hitch might have called, “progress of a sort” along the arduous path towards the world’s secularization? By the beard of the prophet, I’ll take it.

  32. “By the beard of the prophet” should have read “By the beards of the prophets”.

    Pardon the off topic rant but when is RDFRS going to emerge from the software bronze age to upgrade to intelligent forum software, which allows editing, hyperlinking, format conserving copy and paste, etc.?!? 

  33. I would say the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has had some effect in the decline of Palestinians. Some Palestinians weren’t hostile to Jewish immigration in the beginning -quite the opposite, but the parties of god(the Allah one) had quite a different agenda. A two-state solution is not a new one, even. But as long as there are Jews involved, goes the mantra, there will always be suffering and humiliation. Welcome to Islamism and its far left-wing apologists.

  34. They should be out bulldozing Palestinian villages like the rest. Israel isn’t going to expand itself: praying is no excuse for neglecting their ethnic cleansing.

    Warning: this post may contain irony.

  35. I’m tempted to say that I can think of a military role for them; they can be sandbags.

    Really though, this is going to be a real mess for Israel soon. Not only are the Ultra-Orthodox a net drain on the economy, but they are a growing one, with their huge families. How large a proportion of these people can the Israeli economy support?

    Also, if they’ve been successful power-brokers so far, how soon before they represent such a voting bloc that it will be politically impossible to undo the laws which favour them? A messy crisis seems inevitable.

  36. Israel was set up from day one to give special privileges based on religion. It is a religious apartheid system.   It is the antithesis of the way Canada and the USA were founded to try to avoid any privilege based on religion.

    For some reason, we fail to see this as wrong. It is as though everything Israel does by definition is righteous.

Leave a Reply