There are a number of Knesset Ministers whose parties ran on a platform that included references to a simply idea, an idea they tried to make sound like a new revelation never before addressed that would solve all the ills in Israeli society. They talked about sharing the burden by which they meant serving in the Israeli Defense Force or performing National Service. They were focusing largely on making the Haredi communities serve universally and not be given deferments for every Haredi Jew who wished to study Torah. They implied that a percentage, though the exact amount they were loath to mention, were not taking their Torah study all that seriously and were hiding behind study as a path to avoid their social obligations. Some of those making such accusations should check their own background before throwing stones inside a glass house, or whatever, as it works whether the house is glass or the glass is thrown. Some might claim that spending an enlistment working within one’s intended profession which they have a path to pursue open to them, almost reserved one might say, is not service as much as the young soldier who volunteers for combat arms and especially if they make it into any of the elite units. These claims against the Haredi were made so general that it appeared that the fact that there is a program which includes a number of Yeshiva which combines military service with Torah study was being minimized or even discounted as simply a way of claiming to do military service but not being a part of the real military. When the military is called upon to defend the people and State of Israel those Yeshiva soldiers will risk their lives and bleed the same color as any other soldier and they will follow their orders as well if not better than many. But all of this aside, there are other items which need to be discussed in open public as it will require a change of attitude from many within Israeli society if the burden is to be truly shared. When we as a people ask the Haredi to share, we too mush be willing to share.
My initial question for those calling for the Haredi in particular and others to share the burden is very simply. Have any of you ever when hiring people to work in your business life or to serve on your current Knesset staff hired, or even given an interview, to any Haredi who have applied? If you claim that none applied then I would ask why you think they did not apply? If they had applied would it have made any difference? Do you think it is fair to demand the Haredi to serve a public which in general would not give them even consideration for employment? We have all heard the complaint that the Haredi do not have the skills necessary to be employed in much of Israeli high tech industries or manufacturing and other excuses. The people making those arguments very probably know that there are a good number of Haredi who have studied and received degrees in numerous engineering disciplines and most Haredi should prove to be more than adequately trainable for any manufacturing position and very likely easier to train than some who are currently brought into the manufacturing sector. If the Israeli public as a whole desires the Haredi serve just the same as any other sector of society in the military or public service then first treat them as equals when it comes to hiring and giving the choice entry level positions for those Haredi who have taken the courses and received degrees. It is no secret that one can usually determine simply by an application whether somebody is from the Haredi community, though not always a foolproof determination. And it is not unknown that any Haredi who even gets as far as being interviewed; their chances for being actually considered are less than the chances for a non-Haredi. How about we integrate them into what we laughingly call normal society and then I would bet we would find the Haredi far more willing to serve in the IDF or give time to National Service.
On another front, the argument that the percentage of the population that is Haredi is growing faster than any other segment of Israeli society and because of this they will have to serve in the IDF in order to assure we have sufficient soldiers in the future. There is the other argument that their growth as a larger portion of our society means that the government will not be able to underwrite their Torah study as it will soon prove to be more than can be sustained by a workforce that does not include Haredi workers. Well, the solution here is not to do away with stipends for those students who truly desire to study Torah and have shown a better than average aptitude for such study, the secret is to give the Haredi equal opportunity to be employed and a part of the so-called normal workforce. What choices do the current feelings towards the Haredi offer them in Israel? If they are closed out of much of the high tech engineering sectors, ignored by the retail because they dress differently, refused hire for industry because they do not appear to be inclined for such work, then where are they to work and support themselves? Has anybody ever thought that maybe a fair number if not a majority of the Haredi would not mind joining the workforce and earn their own keep? Until such is given an opportunity we will not know and until such opportunities are a normal part of society is it fair to ask them to serve equally when they are not treated equally?
There is something that the Haredi will also need to find a way of adapting. The Haredi Rabbis are going to have to find some middle ground where they allow for coed work environments. Granted there will be a change necessitated where a certain level of modest dress may need to be expected in the workplace. There may be benefits to that beyond making the workplace more accessible for Haredi workers in that psychiatric and sociologic research has found that there has been proven a relationship between professionalism in the workplace and strict dress codes. They have found that if workers are expected to dress to a special level rather than casual attire that they tend to be more professional and productive. Granted that such findings have been buried because casual is the new dressed up but many of us know that the old studies were correct and dress more formally for work you will act and work at a heightened level. But the Haredi will need to be able to work professionally in a coed environment and such environs must be adapted so as to be more acceptable to modesty requirements. Such changes will in time prove to benefit the non-Haredi workers as well as making society more accessible and accepting to the Haredi population among us. On both sides of the society we need to remember that as Jews we are brothers and sisters in the same very extended family. Myself is probably a good example as my father is Ashkenazi and my mother is Sephardic which makes me confused when pronouncing certain Hebrew words as my Hebrew education was spent switching back and forth from the two schools. But the truth is if we go back some generations we all came from a small group of who lived in Judea and gave Greeks and then Romans more trouble than the entire area of Judea was actually worth to them. It does seem being argumentative is something we have gotten down pat. Perhaps it is time to nurture being more open, especially to each other to all of our brothers and sisters. When the world throws either stones or insults at us it is because we are Jews and they do not differentiate between Haredi and irreligious, Zionist or not Zionist, or any of the other differences we impose on ourselves, they simply see Jews and perhaps the time has come for us to see ourselves as the world see us. We will be stronger, happier and more Jewish together and we can learn from one another.
Beyond the Cusp