Huge barriers to universal conscription

By Nathan Jeffay, September 20, 2012
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You’re in the army now: young Orthodox Israeli queues to join up

You’re in the army now: young Orthodox Israeli queues to join up

A Charedi draft is an easy thing to call for, and it is perhaps the most emotive rallying cry for Israeli politicians. But what are the practicalities?

Beyond the talk in the Knesset of the “national burden” and the resentment of Israelis who serve towards those who do not, there are serious, unresolved issues about how a Charedi draft would actually work.

On a practical level, even if Charedim did obey call-up papers, they would inevitabley make demands regarding religious observance that the army is not set up to deal with. For example, they would only be prepared to eat food prepared under special supervision.

At the moment, with a few Charedim serving and doing so mostly in Charedi-only battalions, this is manageable. But army top brass has made it clear that if there is to be a mass draft, it does not want lots of separate Charedi units but, rather, integration into the whole military. This would mean that all food would need to meet high Charedi standards, which would be costly and, in operational terms, challenging. Adding to the difficulty, many Charedim only eat food supervised by the virulently anti-Zionist Eida Charedit, the supervisors of which would never agree to set foot on an army base.

But the biggest unanswered question is how Charedi religious needs could be met and, at the same time, gender equality maintained.

Virtually all Charedi rabbis say that in Jewish law, gender segregation in many public settings is non-negotiable — a ruling they would certainly apply in such a camaraderie-driven environment as the army. Complying with this part of Jewish law would necessarily affect women, as wherever the army would seek to place Charedi men, there are currently women serving: the Israeli military prides itself on full equality for women. There are 1,500 female combat recruits entering the army each year.

If the government somehow manages to convince the Charedi leadership to acquiesce to any draft, it is inconceivable that it will be a draft into mixed units. In other words, making the military Charedi-friendly will mean changing the current reality by which 50 per cent of all officers are women and all roles are open to women. Given that politicians are saying a draft should mean one in ten draftees being Charedi within a decade, this would require a keeping women out of a large number of units.

Last updated: 11:34am, September 20 2012