Well, the truth will out, as they say, and yesterday, it did — again. How many times do we need to hear it, how many rabbis need to issue statements before we admit to ourselves that it’s not about the draft? Or as one of the test pilots in the film The Right Stuff said, “Guys, it’s not about pussy; it’s about monkey!” Only here, we, the non-Orthodox, are the monkeys. Just read Aharon-Leib Shteinman’s statement yesterday under the sub-headline: “Lithuanian Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman's stand will make it hard for the ultra-Orthodox parties to support any proposal to integrate Haredi men into the army”. I especially like that “make it hard”, prompting me to say, “Poor things. So hard for them, living off the rest of us.”
However, the fact is that there is truth to the following: “[Shteinman] hinted that the attempts to draft ultra-Orthodox men stem from a desire [on our parts] to change the Haredi lifestyle rather than from national necessity. ‘We ask the government to leave us alone and not try to change us, and allow us to continue living in our own way. There can be no compromise on this matter.’” Aha. Well, I give Shteinman credit for making no bones about it, and we, for our parts, should be listening: There can be no compromise. No ambiguity there: It’s not the actual serving in the IDF that the ultra-Orthodox oppose; it’s any attempt on the part of outsiders to tamper with, alter, or (what they see as) ultimately eradicate their lifestyle. They want their children to have NO contact with our world. Period.
This attitude shuts down any pictures that Yair Lapid painted during his campaign of 18-year-old ultra-Orthodox performing national service in auxiliary units to firefighters, police, ambulance teams, hospital staff, or home visits to Holocaust survivors. Lapid’s words still echo inside my head: [using the example of reading to, shopping for, or otherwise assisting Holocaust survivors] זה אינו ביטול תורה; זה קיום תורה! [“This isn’t denigrating Torah; it’s upholding Torah!”].
Exactly! I thought. I began fantasizing about komúnot, groups of 18-year-olds sharing apartments around the country, volunteering in the community. No reason 18-year-old ultra-Orthodox couldn’t share gender-separate housing and work for two years in the above-mentioned capacities. Thus the rabbis could still supervise and keep an eye on them, making sure they adhere to the rules and even give them Torah classes in their off hours; and they’d 1) get exposed to the world in a “managed way” and 2) learn skills (including Hebrew) that could lead them to paid work.
“Catching” them at age 18 is critical, as once they enter yeshiva, they’re immersed in that world and as far as we’re concerned, “disappear”: Only a fool could think that allowing them to defer ‘til age 23 will result in anything but the status quo. By that time they’ve been married off and have one or more kids, and anything except full-time Torah study would be bucking the entire community.
But alas, Shteinman’s statement should shut down any national service fantasies on our parts: Anything short of total non-regulation of the ultra-Orthodox is acceptable to them. This is the moment for us, then, to shout our truth: “Fine. Stay in your cocoons. We can’t realistically draft you anyway; to do so would be more trouble than it’s worth. But we’re giving you notice: Your free ride is over. The pipeline is closing: No more child stipends. All existing kids will be “grandfathered” in, so we’re not taking food from the mouths of babes; but any children born after [let’s say] two years from said date will not be receiving any support from the state.” Two years: sufficient time to refrain from expanding one’s family. This plan is a humane way of weaning the ultra-Orthodox off the state teat. Remove the draft from the equation, so we can’t be accused of tampering with or eradicating their lifestyle. Strip the argument down to its bare bones, to a finite resource: money. All else is commentary.
Postscript: Can't resist the urge: Can any readers explain why the above was rejected for publication by Haaretz, yet this daddy blog piece was considered op-ed-worthy? I get that someone's becoming a parent is a current event...for him. But more current than a proposal to increase sharing-the-burden parity [walks away shaking blogging head...]?