“Those Boys of Yours”


It hasn’t been an easy few weeks being frum in Israel.  “Do you know I was stuck in the Central Bus Station for two hours last night and couldn’t get home, after being out of town all day, because of those boys of yours blocking all the roads?”   Those boys of mine?

“I hope your boys weren’t involved – it was a real chilul Hashem.”    No, my boys weren’t involved – they were either learning in kollel or working. But when the headlines get rough, the ultra-Orthodox are all clumped together

It would be convenient to think it was only the teenage hooligans who were involved in the demonstrations that brought towns to a standstill for several hours during peak travel time and caused such terrible anti-chareidi feelings. However, photographs and videos show some of their rebbes and roshei yeshiva as well. For them it was worth being arrested and incarcerated in prison rather than have anything to do with the army, which they feel is determined to destroy all Yiddishkeit in Israel and turn yeshiva bachurim and kolleleit away from a life of Torah.

Are they right? As with so many things in Israel, there’s no simple answer.

There are those who feel that any contact with the secular world – even setting foot in the conscription office to apply for a deferral – is giving in to the secular authorities and giving them authority above the Torah. But if they don’t appear at the conscription office when called, they are considered draft-dodgers and are liable to arrest, which is what happened and caused the demonstrations. When the kavod of the Torah is threatened, they believe, you leave your daled amos of learning and go out and fight.

But not everyone agrees with them.

The vast majority of charedim, including most of the gedolei hador, were against these demonstrations. It doesn’t add honor to the Torah to inconvenience thousands of people for several days in a row and prevent them from going about their daily lives. It is a chillul Hashem for Orthodox Jews to be seen on videos all over the world spitting on and kicking at the soldiers of the IDF.

It should be noted that yeshiva bachurim from most yeshivas remained at their shtenders and, as instructed by their poskim, left the politics of their situation to their rabbanim. When they receive their enlistment papers, they go to the conscription office and apply for, and are usually granted, a draft deferral. They stay out of the army, but their methods are within the law.

That is – unless the law is changed.

If you (try to) follow Israeli politics, you may have noticed that every few years there is a challenge to the idea that boys learning in yeshiva need not go to the army – and this is happening again now. But despite these attempts, there has never been a general conscription of yeshiva bachurim, and most people believe there never will be.

They think it’s a political issue – we know that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is in charge.

Does army service secularize its conscripts? It depends on where they’re coming from. Force a teenage chasid who has never left his neighborhood or yeshiva into uniform and make him become a soldier, and he will change. He will be exposed to people and concepts he’s never encountered before and should never have to encounter. It’s only human nature to be affected by your surroundings and peers.

Even the Nachal Chareidi (the ultra-Orthodox infantry program), which is a military unit supposedly founded for charedi soldiers, isn’t going to leave young 18-year-olds unexposed to ideas and sights they should never have to encounter. In theory, religious requirements are enabled. But remember that it’s an army, not a holiday camp, and often these rights are trampled on when there’s not enough time for davening/the food you wanted is unavailable/we don’t have a man to train you so you’ll have a female commander today. Most boys who have lived their lives immersed only in Torah have no idea how to stand up for their rights and reject the forbidden.

Yes, there are many religious boys in the army who combine yeshiva study with their army service, attending Hesder programs, but they have chosen to enlist, and they have lived in the modern world and know how to turn their backs and reject what is forbidden.

Israel needs an army, which it has had until now without forcing full-time yeshiva bachurim to enlist.

On the other hand, without Torah study, we know the world couldn’t exist. Let’s hope and pray the government will leave these boys to uphold the world with their learning while also making the army more amenable to the religious needs of its soldiers.

And until then, let’s hope these demonstrations are a thing of the past.

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