Beyond the Cusp

May 28, 2013

The Hareidi Share the Burden Puzzle

Among the most contentious of issues in the last Israeli elections was whether and how to integrate the Hareidi into IDF or public service in an equal manner as the rest of those Israelis who are required to serve. Some of the debate was whether it was fair to demand such of the Hareidi while continuing not to require the same sacrifices from the Israeli Arab and other non-Jewish minority populations. Obviously in a perfect society all of the peoples would share equally in all State functions and face the same obligations and requirements while receiving the same benefits. No group would be exempt from service and no group would be denied the privileges which go with citizenship. Unfortunately there are no perfect societies though mankind over the millennia have strived and made strides towards that society. The Israelis are currently debating such a change in the requirements of the various and different sectors of their society in order to make all carry an equal share in the burdens.


The first point of contention which has to be conquered is how to integrate the Hareidi while also permitting the continued Torah study, a service to Israel and to Hashem which is of particular concern and the primary of importance to the Hareidi society. Previously the Hareidi had been exempt from performing mandatory IDF or public service as long as they were engaged in study of Torah and other religious disciplines. Yair Lapid leads the Yesh Atid Party, the second most numerous in the coalition, which is a secular party which has promised during the campaign to force all Hareidi to serve in the IDF or face heavy criminal penalties. They are facing the head party of the coalition with Prime Minister Netanyahu as well as their primary partners in the Bayit Yehudi lead by Naftali Bennett who both agree that the Hareidi need to be included in service but do not believe they should face as serious criminal punishment if they choose not to serve. They believe that the Hareidi should be treated more like conscientious objectors if they should choose not to be drafted into IDF or public service. The question that will now play out is can some compromise be found which will be acceptable not only to the two political camps, but even more difficult, one that the Hareidi will accept which finding such a solution would solve the entire disagreement returning tranquility to the Israeli public.


So, the first step to finding a solution is to properly define the problem, the entire problem and not just the talking points which the two sides use to stir up their supporters. The problem is not honestly finding how to integrate the Hareidi into all sectors of Israeli society, not just into primarily IDF service. Up to now the Hareidi not only enjoyed a permanent deferment from military service but were also left apart from all of Israeli society which included most areas of employment. The public call for the Hareidi to be made to carry an equal share of the burden of IDF and public service must also include equal opportunity in all areas of Israeli society for the Hareidi including in employment. One of the other complaints which have come to the fore is that the Hareidi are subsidized by the government to a larger degree than any other sector of the society. This is simply a symptom of their not being integrated into the workforce, something that was not entirely their preference. Of course the rest of Israeli society gave a reason that the Hareidi were facing such reluctance in gaining employment was due to the fact their education was so focused on Torah that they were unemployable. That excuse was not completely true as many Hareidi have studied subjects outside of Torah plus not all employment actually requires any specific or special education beyond a solid morality combined with a work ethic and an ability to learn, traits very strong within the Hareidi community. Add to that the logic and discipline mastered as a necessary byproduct of learning, understanding and interpreting Torah and related commentaries. So, the real problem is not so much forcing the Hareidi into IDF and public service as it should be making society more accommodating and acceptive to the members of the Hareidi community.


Perhaps what is needed most is reconciliation between the majority of Israeli society and the Hareidi community. It would be beyond unfair to expect the Hareidi community to only carry an equal obligation to serve without also providing them with an equal opportunity to be integrated into the whole of Israeli society. Full service has to go hand in hand with full integration and full opportunity. This will need to be a two way street. The rest of Israel has to learn to appreciate and understand the Hareidi dedication to Torah learning and performing mitzvah before Hashem. I would be willing to bet that the Hareidi already possess some level of understanding of Israeli society outside their communities but also that they may need to soften some of their misgivings and might be surprised that the differences between their communities and Israeli society are not as dire as initially perceived. It would be understandable if there were some misunderstandings and misgivings between the two groups but that with time and familiarization there would come some level of comfort between the two societies, after all we are all members of the same family. The one thing that Yair Lapid is going to have to come to understand is that the new arrangement he wishes to implement with such great urgency could be made far smoother and with less calamity provided patience and understanding replace urgency. On the other side, the Hareidi will need to make the effort to accept that their strict regimented rules will never be accepted or even tolerated by the most militant secularists in Israeli society if they refuse to educate them and allow for a period of adjustment and acclimation on both sides. There are going to be those among the Hareidi and among the secularists who will never interact well and will refuse any interactions. Those are the lost souls who simply should be left to go about their particular ways and excluded from having to tolerate as long as they also do not impede everybody else or impinge on any cooperation or interaction. Tolerance must be the byword and theme behind everything in this period of adjustment. Impatience and demanding that one side’s view be dominant and superior over the other side’s comfort must not be acceptable. Time, patience, understanding, sympathy and even possibly empathy are the essential requirements in finding a path which will have the best possibility of success while causing the least damage and hardship on all of Israel. Hopefully the Knesset Ministers will recognize such and for those exceptions, they must be muted before they cause damage which will be irreparable.


Beyond the Cusp


March 11, 2013

Shas Reacts Facing the Unthinkable

In the entire history of the state of Israel, Shas has been included as part of the ruling coalition ever since its inception going into elections for the eleventh Knesset without concern for the political alignment, be it right, left, Zionist or any other conceivable alignment except for the sixteenth Knesset under Prime Minister Sharon. This has made the leadership of the Shas Party begin to expect that they would be included in every government going forward as they have proven to be loyal members of coalitions led by Labor or Likud and anyone inbetween. As such, the Shas leadership now has to deal with not being included in the next ruling coalition for only the second time since their inception and they are definitely not pleased with this situation. This begs the question of whether or not any party can rightfully view themselves as indispensable to any ruling coalition and what leads the membership of Shas to have such beliefs.


It is actually understandable why Shas has been able to join governing coalitions without regard to most of the political considerations which affect other parties. Shas is only beholden to the Sephardic Haredi population and as such has a very narrow definition of concerns. With such a specific and narrowly defined membership, Shas can be accommodated in any governing coalition without sacrificing any of the more secular principles which often go into the formation of a coalition. Shas would appear to favor more religious Jewish values which are also considered to be at least in part the basics for Likud, Labor and most of the other Israeli Jewish political parties and as such pose no difficulties for the inclusion of Shas in a government. Simply all the major party forming a coalition need implement to have Shas as a member party is to grant them the demands for Torah worship funding including stipends for their adult students, especially those with families, so they may study full time and not need to hold employment and also give those students of Torah deferment from military or public service requirements. This had not been a problem as it had been established through the Tal Law. That came crashing down when Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch annulled the Tal Law as a parting gift when she stepped down from her position. The Tal Law was in need of replacement as the Haredi portion of the Israeli society has grown to the point where it is becoming unfeasible to continue to carry them on the backs of the rest of the country and excuse them from any responsibility solely so they are free to study Torah and only study Torah. The transition had already shown the early signs of stirrings and would have been accomplished, albeit slowly, but it was being addressed. By annulling the Tal Law the government was faced with a pressing situation which more resembled a crisis than having to address a gradual change altering perceptions over time. This made Shas the political hot potato of this election cycle and was further exacerbated by Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party making the immediate enlistment and end of deferrals for almost all Torah students which placed them totally at odds with Shas. This led to a predicament where only one of the two political parties would be able to join the ruling coalition if either were to be included. As Lapid reached an agreement with Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home Party that they would join their Knesset seats together and join a coalition or the opposition as one party. This left Prime Minister Netanyahu with a choice, either include both Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party and Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home Party or allow Shas to join his coalition. Apparently Shas will end up on the losing end of such a choice.


The resulting anger and recriminations which have emanated from the Shas membership and leadership both during the campaign and the ensuing coalition negotiations has been, shall we say, less than cordial or polite. Their vindictive rhetoric towards Yair Lapid and his party’s secular core which demanded equal sharing of the burden was predictable but their venomous outpourings at Naftali Bennett did come as a surprise to some, especially members of the Jewish Home Party. It will remain to be seen if the uncomely actions and accusations from some Shas members, particularly their newly returned leader, Aryeh Deri, have shocked many and left a rather putrid aroma over the whole coalition building scene. Their demands and appearance of feeling owed a position in the next government would affect adversely any regular party in upcoming elections. Not so Shas as their support comes from a close knit community which is obliged by their Rabbis to vote for Shas and without considerations of anything other than supporting their community at the expense of all else. This is part of why they are immune to normal influences that might cripple other parties and why they appear to garner the same portion of Knesset seats election after election. It will remain to be seen if the discipline to keep the members of Shas dependent upon their party once their insular community is no longer supported separate from the rest of Israeli society. Once they are no longer permitted universal deferment from IDF or public service it is possible that their world and societal views may change and outside influences may forever alter their previously closed society.


There is one item that also must be addressed if one is to be fair to the Haredi community. They have not exactly been accepted with open arms by those outside their community. Where there may be some credibility to the excuse that the Haredi have not exactly made enormous efforts to be accepted by the outside society, those outside of the Haredi community share at least an equal amount of blame for not making the Haredi accepted or make efforts to make the outside world accessible for the strictly religious. The lack of understanding has been shared by both sides of this debate and any solution is going to require sacrifices and efforts by both communities. Where the Haredi community has been portrayed by the secular media and secular society as a bunch of freaks living in a backwards and exclusive community, there has not exactly been any real efforts made to make the secular society accessible to the Haredi or to be sensitive to their culture and societal rules and standards. Much of the public discussion has been of a nature to criticize the Haredi with little effort put forth towards understanding and acceptance. The Haredi have just as much right to live according to traditional rules as the secular society has to ignore those very same rules which their ancestors no more than a few short generations ago lived by. That is the one small fact that many in the secular community ignore that they are not that far removed from the exact same societal structures and strict rules of the Haredi in their own families. Where it is true that the Haredi are going to need to join Israeli society and start to pull their fair share of the burden, it is also going to be necessary that the secular make adjustment which allows the Haredi to share the burden while not forcing them to abandon their principles and traditions. It is a two way street and neither side is going to be able to demand of the other that they forfeit their way of life and the lifestyle to which they are accustomed. If both are to share the burden, then both will also be burdened with making Israel a place which respects and accommodates both in equal amounts. The extent to which such accommodations and adjustments are made will be the measure to the tolerance and respect both societies are able to grant the other. The one truth is that the future of Israel is dependent upon a shared effort and interest in working together instead of competing for prevalence.


Beyond the Cusp


July 9, 2012

Israeli Draft Law After Repeal of Tal Law

Former Supreme Court President Dorit Benish’s term as the highest judicial figure in Israel was a gift that just kept on giving. Even now, months after she retired and was replaced by Justice Asher Dan Grunis, there remains one monumental challenge from one of her final acts, repealing the Tal Law which allowed adult Hareidim Torah Scholars to be excused from IDF and Public Service. Since the repeal of the Tal Law there has been a feeling of impending doom as the different political camps hold tight to their various views, many of which are completely at odds with the rest. The religious parties are insisting that a new law be enacted which would continue to allow the exemption for all Hareidim who are engaged in Torah studies. The national Zionist camp insists that should the Hareidim be included in the mandatory service, either military or public service, then so should the Arab, Muslim, Christian, Druze, and all other peoples even to the smallest minority groups (I believe that would be the members of the Bahá’í Faith). The leftist elites are boisterously protesting for an immediate forced induction into the IDF of all being of military age Hareidim immediately or arrested and sentenced to extreme terms of imprisonment even before a new law has been debated, let alone constructed through the legislative process. And the Hareidim are split with the majority remaining mostly silent and choosing not to enter the fray while a fair number are boisterously adamant that they should retain their preferential status and some even declaring intent to take the consequences for their refusal to enlist or serve if drafted. All of this begs a number of questions in order to clarify what has become a hot potato which many news sources within Israel claim has the potential to fracture Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition so completely that it will cause a vote of no confidence, calling for early elections.

What is interesting, even if predictable and expected, are the cross accusations coming out of this debate. The liberal leftists claim that almost every Hareidim has been abusing the Tal Law and were not seriously studying Torah but instead using an appearance of Torah study in order to avoid any form of mandatory service. The Hareidim and the national Zionists have refuted this claim pointing to the significant increase of Hareidim and Orthodox Jews who have voluntarily enlisted in the IDF, many of whom chose to serve in the combat and elite units. The truth in this argument is that there has been a marked increase in Hareidim and Orthodox enlistments in addition to the Hesder Yeshivas which take a middle of the road approach with the students splitting their time between IDF service and Torah study. These Yeshivas do not serve in the IDF for as long as a regular inductee due to the sharing of their time between two mutually exclusive obligations. It is rather difficult to have your head buried in intricate Torah commentaries while also practicing marksmanship at the rifle range, even trying such would result in people getting seriously injured. There has been one additional consequence of the current increase in Hareidim and Orthodox Jews serving in the IDF and the idea of forced service placing a sizable increase in Hareidim and Orthodox Jews serving in the IDF that comes from the liberal feminists. Since the Hareidim units are required to be all male, the feminists have complained that enlisting more Hareidim into the IDF will actually hurt female enlistment and opportunities. Even when it is pointed out that the majority of the Hareidim enlistees choose to serve in combat arms where so few women serve that it should not pose any unsolvable difficulties for women; the feminists present an argument that it would be an impediment if women should suddenly decide en masse to be recruited into combat arms units.

Equally resolute, the national Zionists hold that should the Hareidim be pressed into service, even against their will, that Arabs and others who either are not required to do any volunteer service or groups that have found political protection or an option not to serve at all be equally pressed to serve. The majority from this camp is not demanding that the Arab and other minorities be forced to join the IDF should doing such offend their social, political, moral or religious sensitivities, but for them to, at a minimum, do public service. Some have proposed that such enlistees be assigned to perform their public service in their home communities and by doing such extend the ability of the State of Israel to better serve the entirety of its population. The response to this proposed solution from the extreme left has been near apoplectic rage asserting that removing the privileged status of complete deferment from the Arab community would be not simply unthinkable but cataclysmic in its nature. The retort from the national Zionists has been to continue to promote the ideal of what is good for the goose is good for the gander or something like that. This particular part of the debate will likely prove to be the most difficult to find an agreeable and workable compromise that will be acceptable to both sides. The ultimatum that the new law only applies to Hareidim and Orthodox Jews and allows the Arab Israelis to continue to have no obligation for service may result in Kadima departing the coalition it just recently joined. It is this potential for a split that has so excited Labor Party Leader Shelly Yachimovich that she has started announcing her intent to propose a motion of “no confidence” against the Netanyahu Government and even promise her constituency that early elections are right around the corner. Her exuberance will prove to be overly optimistic as even should the entire twenty-eight seats Kadima holds leave the current coalition; it will simply leave the original coalition’s narrower majority in place and the Netanyahu Government would stand.

How will all of this tumult work itself out? There are likely as many different opinions and possibilities as pebbles in the Negev Desert. It makes no difference which side appears to be the most logical, or the most equitable, or the most feasible; it will most likely be the most cumbersome, unworkable, complicated and illogical collection of seemingly contradictory definitions that will inevitably be produce such that everybody appears to have gotten what they insisted included while effectively not changing much if anything at all. Such is often the result of any legislation pounded and crafted by a parliamentary coalitional government which is comprised of so many varied parties from widely divergent viewpoints and constituencies all vying for their own specific interests. This was evidenced by how quickly the Plesner Committee fell apart with one party after the other dissolving their participation over the intransient positions taken by the leadership. This same stubborn, resolute resolve by the Kadima membership and perfectly embodied in their leader, Shaul Mofaz, has been evident for all to see as Kadima Chairman Mofaz has thrown down the gauntlet threatening to bring down the government should the position held by the membership of Kadima be enacted with no amendment thus allowing for a law which will enforce strict and extreme punishment on Hareidim and Orthodox Jews who refuse IDF service while not only not making a single demand upon Arabs or other minorities, but actually strongly restating their preferential treatment under the law. Just like Labor Party Leader Shelly Yachimovich, Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz also holds the mistaken belief that the coalition cannot stand should Kadima pull their support from the government. This prevailing mistaken hope that Kadima has sufficient seats in the Knesset to bring down the government and force early election is simply another symptom that seems to be common among people who enter into politics that the entire governing bodies would be unable of accomplishing anything without their individual input and approvals. I’m sure there is a word for such thinking, and I believe it is megalomaniac. There is also a phrase for the usual actions produced by a parliamentary government, and I believe that is complicated, nonsensical gibberish.

Beyond the Cusp

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