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Tel Aviv — Aside from the issue of women, drafting Haredim into the IDF poses several other challenges, economic and practical.
Soldiers receive a stipend from the army of about $100 a month, but married soldiers receive a larger sum, which is calculated according to various personal circumstances and comes out several times higher. Today, few soldiers are married, but Haredim marry younger than the general population, meaning that drafting them will prove expensive.
Practically, Haredi soldiers would require many special provisions. Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, a leader from the liberal flank of ultra-Orthodoxy who is open in principle to some form of Haredi service, said that soldiers from his community would require, among other conditions, ritual baths to use each morning, time for prayer and study, and food under special kashrut supervision.
The issue of food could prove particularly difficult, not only because of the added expense of having Haredi-standard kashrut across all bases and changing field rations, but also because most Haredim eat only food produced under the supervision of “Badatz.” This kashrut seal, however, is controlled by the strongly anti-Zionist Eida Haredit, which would be highly unlikely to supervise within the army.
Meshi-Zahav, who heads the ZAKA rescue and medical organization, said that Haredi soldiers would also need to be permitted to follow their rabbi’s rulings to determine the answers to such questions as what tasks could be performed on the Sabbath.
The only real precedent for Orthodox soldiers following religious rules are the Religious Zionist men serving in the Hesder program, which combines army service with stints of yeshiva study.
But this program has had its difficulties. Last year, there was outrage across the country after the surfacing of media reports of male religious soldiers walking out of military events where women sing. Nineteen reserve major generals sent a letter to Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Gantz in November, raising concerns about this and also about pressure from Religious Zionist soldiers to remove women from some areas of IDF operation.
In the main, however, Religious Zionists flourish in the IDF because their leaders are enthusiastic about their service. The rabbis they answer to are ultra-nationalists whose rulings allow all sorts of leniencies for the sake of effective army service and who share the army’s priorities. But Haredi rabbis are as antagonistic toward army service as Religious Zionist rabbis are enthusiastic, and they say that they will never make the army’s needs a legitimate consideration when making rulings. “If there’s a will there’s a way, but there’s absolutely no will,” said Eisenstein, who went on to argue that his community’s opposition to the army will make Haredim poor soldiers. “A soldier is not a good soldier without motivation,” he added.
Stern is worried by the prospect of large numbers of soldiers whose first loyalty is to rabbis who disapprove of their service. “They will listen to their commanders, but definitely the last word will be with the rabbis,” he said, describing this situation as a “duality of authority” that is “very dangerous.”
Contact Nathan Jeffay at email@example.com