Monday, July 9, 2012

Yeshiva students in the IDF (or not)

Earlier today we published four documents reflecting the arguments for and against recruiting yeshiva students to the IDF in Israel's first decade. As you see, the issue which is dominating internal Israeli politics these past few months is not new. It has been with us since 1948; indeed, since the beginning of 1948, almost six months before the founding of the state of Israel, when the notionally voluntary Hagana forces where already recruiting, and the heads of Jerusalem's yeshivas were already explaining why their students needed exemptions. They were supported by the Rav Herzog, the Chief Rabbi, and criticised by Yosef Burg, who spent decades as a cabinet minster for the National Religious Party. Our publication also includes a sharp letter from Ben Gurion to Herzog (the two normally corresponded quite amicably):
This is, first and foremost, a great moral issue: whether it is fitting that the son of one mother is killed in defence of the homeland, and another mother's son sits in his room and studies in safety, while most of the young people of Israel are risking their lives". He added: "I cannot, under any circumstances, agree with your words, that 'it is due to the yeshiva students that we have arrived at where we are today'. They did not build this country, nor did they risk their lives for its independence (although some of them did so), and they have no special rights that other Jews do not have.
Yet before you assume things have always been as they are now, keep in mind that Rabbi Herzog was not your regular haredi rabbi. He had a PhD in literature, and indeed back in the 1930s some of the haredi rabbis objected to his appointment precisely because he was thought to be not enough Rabbi, and too much Dr. One of his sons, Yaacov Herzog, grew up to be a top civil servant, while the other, Haim, was a general, a politician, and eventually Israel's 6th president. People are complicated.

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