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!
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • 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.