I will surprise many of you by the following nine words: Nobody should be forced to serve in the IDF. My position, and the ideology and vision of my partner, Moshe Feiglin (Deputy Speaker of the Knesset) is very clear. We do not want soldiers who don’t want to be there. To us, it does not matter why they feel this way. Maybe it is for religious reasons, maybe they want to start university, maybe it is for political reasons (right or left) or maybe they just want to sit home all day and watch TV. Who cares? We simply do not want a person putting on that holy uniform of the IDF if – for whatever reason – they don’t see it as the greatest honor and privilege imaginable.
In Israel, everyone talks about religious coercion and how we must fight against it. Instead of forcing our brothers to keep Shabbat, we need to teach them, show them and guide them. Nobody ever became frum because a rock was thrown through their car window by some lunatic screaming “Shabbos”!!! We need to bring our brothers and sisters close to Torah by showing them the beauty and the sweetness. Forcing people may work in the short-term but it never lasts and is never transmitted to the next generation.
The problem with this logic is that people only think it applies to religious coercion when, in reality, it refers to secular coercion as well. Wait a second; did I just write “secular coercion”??? Has anybody heard that term before? Well, I just proved my point! Nobody has ever heard about it because it is never discussed… but it exists! Last year a young, religious soldier in the IDF walked out during an army graduation ceremony that featured a woman singing. He did not make noise. He did not insist that she stop singing. He simply picked himself up and quietly exited the room. The media found out about this and went nuts! “Where is his respect?” they asked. “How dare he impose his beliefs on others?” they accused. The same media that demands religious tolerance was now demanding secular coercion. “The singing was part of the program and he must not leave!” They were absolutely twisting his arm – and the arm of all soldiers in that same uncomfortable position – to sit and listen to the woman sing. This is just one example of what I call “secular coercion” and there are many, many examples.
Moshe Feiglin and I are against all coercion. Stop forcing people to do what they don’t want! Please understand that I am not talking about laws which are in place for public safety. Obviously every society needs rules to follow so that the public is safe – from road safety to building codes and everything in between! Rather, I am talking about forcing people to act or think in a certain way. That is totally wrong and societies built on these concepts often crumble quickly.
Let’s now use this logic to discuss the IDF draft. This is the “hot issue” of these days and we must take a position on this. I love the IDF. When I made Aliyah at the age of 29 with four children, the IDF did not want me. I sent letters, called whomever I could and eventually just walked into the Draft Center in Tel HaShomer to sign up. Everyone there looked at me as though I was nuts but I didn’t care. I came to Israel to build a Jewish Nation and fighting in the IDF was an important part of that dream. Baruch Hashem, they finally took me and I served, in the reserves, for 20 years in an anti-chemical warfare unit. When my son grew up, he proudly entered the IDF and joined the Nahal Haredi unit as a combat soldier. He became a commander of a unit and to this day, serves in the reserves, ready, willing and able to inflict pain on the Jewish enemy. All of my girls served in “Sherut Leumi” (National Service) and my 18 year old will be starting her service immediately after high school. In short, we consider service in the IDF as one of the greatest Mitzvot humanely possible. Think about it; a soldier is not just doing something privately. All at once he is serving himself, his family, his community, his nation and above all – his G-d! There isn’t a mitzvah that comes close to that.
That having been said, I do not want to force anyone to join the IDF if they don’t feel the same way. Yes, I will try to convince them that they are wrong; that is called education! Yes, I will show them all the Torah sources about the great Jewish leaders – including Moshe Rabbeinu – who led military battles. However, when all is said and done, if the young men I speak with do NOT want to serve, or the young women do not want to perform national service – it is their 100% right to make that decision and we must honor and respect it.
I have just one problem with this IDF Draft Law: The Chillul Hashem caused by the people who gather to protest. THIS makes me crazy! Here, if I could, I WOULD force myself on making them stop because when it comes to Chillul Hashem we do not say “live and let live”. For the honor and glory of our Father and King, we must stop these ridiculous and shameful gatherings. In my mind, the people that attended these horror shows were not simply saying Tehillim. They were publicly desecrating the name of Heaven, even though they did not intend that in any way.
When 50,000 religious Yidden come to a public place in Manhattan to protest against the draft, they open the door for anti-Semites around the world to condemn the IDF and the holy work they do. Don’t get me wrong; there are many things that I do not like about the army but you will never see me talking about it in public. I desperately want to make changes and this is why I have dedicated my life to changing the leadership. The soldiers – each and every one – are precious gems but, at times, the orders they receive are beyond comprehension. This is what we need to fight but not on the streets of Manhattan where the world looks and does not understand. They see 50,000 Orthodox Jews screaming against the army and they misunderstand. Trust me because I am involved in this 24 hours/day. The world uses this against us – “Even your own religious Jews are against the Israeli army” – and it causes Israel irreparable damage.
If the organizers of this shameful act had good intentions, they would have told everyone to gather in their local shul and say Tehillim at a certain time. It could have been synchronized perfectly and Jews all over the world who feel strongly about this issue could have said Tefillot; from California, to NY, to Canada to Australia! That would have been fine but that was not the intention of the organizers! The intention was to mock, desecrate and delegitimize Israel as the Jewish state and THIS is something I will not stand for!
One last point: When Rabbi Meir Kahane started the Jewish Defense League in 1968 he held countless rallies for the freedom of Soviet Jewry. I was just a young boy but I attended many of those rallies with my older brother and sister. We simply could not stay in the comfort of our home while millions of Jews were languishing in misery. Rabbi Kahane noticed that these rallies were almost never attended by the Yeshiva world and he asked many of the Rabbonim why they stayed away. The answer he got was always the same: “Bittul Torah”. The Rabbonim felt that the boys should sit and learn and not attend any kind of protests which wasted time away from their Torah learning. Rabbi Kahane told me that he really believed them and even agreed with them because – as we all know: Talmud Torah comes before everything else. Well, it all changed on September 6, 1970 when Rav Yitzchak Hutner, the Rosh Yeshiva of Chaim Berlin, was hijacked on a plane (together with his family) and taken to Jordan. All of a sudden, the Yeshiva world poured out into the streets. There were protests and rallies and cries to free Rav Hutner. For 3 weeks, Rav Hutner was in a living hell until, finally, he and all the hostages were released and freed. Rabbi Kahane told me that he learned an important lesson at that time. Why did these same Rabbonim not have a problem with “Bittul Torah” NOW??? Simple… because it was one of them! Immediately after Rav Hutner returned to Brooklyn, the protests from this chevra stopped. Why not scream for Yosef Mendelovich, Ida Nudel or Anatoly Sharansky? Bittul Torah…
This was another problem of this gathering. Not a word when 10,000 Yidden were thrown out of their homes in Gush Katif. Nothing when Jewish graves were dug up or when Yeshiva buildings, mikvehs and shuls were smashed to the ground. Why? I know the answer but will not write it. How sad it is that we are so segregated from each other. We need to see the complete picture and be honest with ourselves. The world needs to see Jews praying FOR the State of Israel and for fellow Jews, regardless if they look or think like us. Only through working together – even if we disagree (which is perfectly acceptable) will we turn the miracle of Purim into a modern holiday that destroys the enemy and returns the Jews home… just like in the original!