Military Service is Not the Answer for Ultra-Orthodox Integration

The best way to integrate the Haredi community in the labor market is through education reform, writes Nurit Kaneti. Unlike in Jewish and Arab schools, the Haredi schools do not teach the core studies, even if their educational system is financed by the State.

al-monitor Pupils recite morning prayers during a lesson at an ultra-Orthodox Jewish boys school. Photo by REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun.

Topics covered

universal military draft, reform, national service, labor market, integration, education, core studies, plesner committee, orthodox, israel

Jul 15, 2012

In large sections of the Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] sector a very wide gulf separates their lifestyle and belief system, from Zionism. The ultra-Orthodox educational system does not deal with subjects connected to the democratic Jewish state. Their system ignores the civics, the geography and the history of the Jewish nation that was redeemed in its land. Days of Remembrance are not mentioned at all, and major Zionist figures like Benjamin Ze'ev [Theodor]  Herzl [Father of modern political Zionism with Israel as the national homeland of the Jews], David Ben Gurion [Israel’s first Prime Minister], Jabotinsky [Founder of the Revisionist movement, the precursor of the right wing and the Likud political party] and others are foreign to the students of this system.

For the large community of Jews living in Bnei Brak, Meah Shearim and other ultra-Orthodox centers, the importance of the State of Israel's army service is on par with that of service in the armies of France, the Congo, Mexico or Spain. They feel estranged from Israel's army as a foreign army of a foreign State with a value-system and historical consciousness that is completely separate from theirs.

Meanwhile, Israel's national and national-religious educational system attempts to instill warm feelings toward the State in the students under its care from kindergarten to twelfth grade. It strives to inculcate Zionism, patriotism and deep understanding of Jewish-Israeli history and its ramifications. Yet all this is totally absent from the ultra-Orthodox "recognized but unofficial" educational system, as it is called in the Education Ministry. "Recognized" — meaning "funded." "Unofficial"—not part of the Israeli educational system.

The beginning of the process of drafting the ultra-Orthodox lies in education. Just as no secular fellow would be willing or interested to give up two or three years of his life [to serve in the army] if he had not imbibed these values from infancy, so, too, the ultra-Orthodox Jew is reluctant. The most important recommendation of the Plesner Report [Plesner committee was tasked with promoting "equal sharing of the national burden," universal military draft or national service] should have landed on the Education Ministry's table: the integration of a core curriculum in the ultra-Orthodox educational system. Ignoring core studies is like ignoring the draft. Without [education], there will be no equality; without core studies, they will not understand the concept of [equal bearing of the military] burden.

If the country wants to draft the ultra-Orthodox, it must first educate them towards their mobilization. And since it is clear to all that the draft will promote the integration of the ultra-Orthodox in the labor market, the government must insist that they be prepared for army service by studying those subjects that will connect them to the reality of the 21st century. Core studies are also vital in preparing those enlisting in national service: one does not have to be a great Zionist to understand the problems in Israeli society and the need for volunteers in the police, the hospitals and welfare system.

If what happens in Israeli society does not penetrate the walls separating the secular and ultra-Orthodox societies, there will be no motivation among the ultra-Orthodox to volunteer for national service either. Clearly only education, and studying core subjects, will convince the ultra-Orthodox to enlist. But it is also clear that if the values of the State of Israel and of the 21st century are not studied by everyone, the process beginning with the conclusions of the Plesner Committee will not go far, even many decades from now.

The author is a reporter for Galei-Zahal (military radio station).

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