Israel’s Plesner Report recommended 80% of the ultra-Orthodox should serve in Israel’s military or face criminal sanctions if they don’t. The report would reduce the length of service to 24 months where regular citizens now serve for three years. The aim of this report is to replace the old so-called Tal Law.
When the country began, David Ben-Gurion exempted the haredi at the urging of an advisor. The reasoning was based on religious grounds and had to do with the group’s study of the Bible. It has existed as a source of tension within Israel ever since.
Of course, the Haredi politicians reacted with outrage, calling the document evil and malicious. However, representatives of the Plesner group noted that national service was a religious concept and a Torah commandment. Torah does not oppose military service if a religious lifestyle is accommodated. However, the debate is far from ended, but definitely moving in the direction of compulsory conscription for the haredi.
Several years ago, I was walking through the Jewish sector of the Old City. A disturbance had erupted on the Temple Mount caused by Moslem boys throwing rocks at tourists. As I passed by an archeological sight, I saw at least a hundred girls in military uniforms with rifles sitting in the enclosure. Aged 18 to 20, the young women were ready to charge the Temple Mount if the disruption continued. Seeing women armed and ready to shoot stops one in their tracks. Of course, women have always served in Israel, but not without tensions.
Shani Boianjiu wrote in The New York Time about her experience in the military when the secular Jewish world encounters the ultra-Orthodox. She described an incident where she made the mistake of “touching” a soldier during a training exercise. Her job was to teach combat soldiers how to use their personal weapons. During the boot camp exercise, Shani’s task was to make sure that soldiers didn’t fall off balance. The squadding position could be awkward unless the soldiers were positioned correctly. Recognizing an error, she lightly kicked a soldier to expose how unbalanced he was. The man didn’t move. From behind, she put her hands on his shoulders. The man suddenly began screaming, “I observe touch.” Even though Shani was the man’s superior officer and trainer, she had violated a religious rule the military observed.
In her article, Shani Boianjiu, who is secular, described the tension in the military that ancient religious rules often create. One of these statues is that a women cannot touch a weapon in a man’s presence. Once while trying to demonstrate a grenade launcher, as soon as she actually put a finger on the weapon, her trainees disappeared. Their was no problem in being instructed by a women or having her point at the weapon. However, once she picked it up, the ultra-Orthodox soldiers cleared out. Why? While she never could get the point, it had to do with an ancient saying about women and instruments of war not mixing.
One of the major reasons these religious Jews feel they should be exempted from military serve is because of women working as military personnel. Currently, women compose about 30% of the IDF. Another one of these strange rules is that ultra-religious men are not allowed to hear women sing. Shani concluded that the tolerance of Israel’s leaders for religious needs at the expense of others is deeply unfair.
The struggle goes on and must soon come to some resolute as the old Tal Law has now run out. Prime Minister Netanyahu must make a major decision. Soon.