Father's Lament for Son Who Should've Served

One Ultra-Orthodox Father Sees Good Side of Israeli Draft

Draft Law Dilemma: Israel is debating whether ultra-Orthodox (and maybe Israeli Arabs) should share the burden of national service. One Haredi father sees big advantages to his son joining the IDF.
brian rea
Draft Law Dilemma: Israel is debating whether ultra-Orthodox (and maybe Israeli Arabs) should share the burden of national service. One Haredi father sees big advantages to his son joining the IDF.

By William Kolbrener

Published July 11, 2012, issue of July 20, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

My oldest son, now 19, studies in yeshiva full time. I ask him, almost every day: “When will you do army service?” I say: “A person with an iPhone or laptop should be in the army!” This is my common refrain, one my children have heard so many times at the table on Saturday afternoons that they shrug their shoulders and simply say, “Pass the eggplant salad, please.” I may not be a Zionist in a conventional sense, but you don’t need a messianic belief in the State of Israel to appreciate the importance of national service.

“If you want him to go to the army,” a friend commented, “you’re his father — make him go.” She has seven-year-old twins. “Wait until they are teenagers,” I told her. “Then get back to me.”

The question of whether or not my son serves, maybe once in my hands is certainly no longer. And now, with the coming expiration on August 1 of the Tal Law, the bill passed in 2002 that has allowed yeshiva students like my son to defer army service, everything may change.

If you want to better understand the effects of your own youthful idealism — say, from 20 years ago — then look at your 20-year-old child. Me, 20 years ago: On a graduate fellowship at the Hebrew University, I devoted my spare time to Torah study in one of Jerusalem’s many ba’alie teshuva yeshivot, institutes for the recently religious. My wife and I were enthusiastic, even zealous, in our newly-embraced religious observance, eager to heed the rabbis who, after we made the decision to stay in Israel, advised us to send our children to ultra-Orthodox schools. These rabbis, Americans themselves, nurtured commitment, tolerance and a sense of responsibility. I assumed I would find similar values and commitments — reflecting those of my American teachers — in Israeli ultra-Orthodox educational institutions. But I was wrong, or maybe just naive.

I am proud of my son’s proficiency in Jewish learning, and his connection to the Jewish tradition. But when he was young — or rather when I was — I did not realize how much his education was accompanied by a nearly constant soundtrack of anti-secular and anti-Zionist polemic, and that there never was any emphasis on civic virtue or even citizenship, certainly not service to the state. In American synagogues — even ultra-Orthodox ones — there is the recitation of a generations-old prayer for the government and country in which one lives, as well as a prevailing recognition of the authority of the law of the land. But in Israel, it is not so. So my son never decided — it was never on his radar screen — not to go into the army. That decision was made for him by me, almost 20 years ago.

This family story is now, of course, part of an urgent national conversation about the expiration of the Tal Law. The Plesner committee, appointed and recently disbanded by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (who has been accused of bowing to ultra-Orthodox pressure), has advocated principles of a universal draft, with a goal of 80% ultra-Orthodox enlistment by 2016, reflecting a growing national consensus for changes to the status quo. The ultra-Orthodox reaction has been disappointing, if not discouraging.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.