Beyond the Cusp

July 4, 2013

A Basic Question for Those Ministers in the Knesset Demanding Share the Burden

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

 

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

 

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