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Civil Service? Photo: Shutterstock
 
 

Don’t force them to serve

Op-ed: Instead of forcing haredim to join army, we should encourage them to perform civil service

Sar-Shalom Jerbi
Published: 05.17.12, 10:15 / Israel Opinion

The issue of army service for Israel’s haredim and minority groups has become one of the burning issues on the agenda. There is no doubt that some parts of the public bear the burden, while others are not a party to this. However, in my view, we must avoid zealous thinking and come up with a way to ultimately achieve the desired result of seeing the haredi community and other sectors playing their part in bearing the burden.

 

I admit that I too used to think that all haredim should be drafted into the IDF. However, once I became deeply familiar with the issue I realized this is not something that can be resolved at once. In order to integrate haredim into our education system and job market and allow them to bear the burden, we must work gradually, while showing understanding and engaging in dialogue with the haredi leadership.

 

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Civil service constitutes an example of a successful process whereby the haredim play a part in bearing the national burden, while boosting their chances of acquiring education and getting a job in the future.

 

I believe that the success of civil service has to do with voluntary participation rather than coercion. We are dealing with a unique, sensitive sector that decisively objects to any type of coercion when it comes to its lifestyle and culture.

 

I do not wish to see our prisons being filled with yeshiva students and young fathers who will serve their jail term proudly, while constituting a role model for many younger haredim. This will merely boost the polarization within Israeli society and prompt growing hostility among various sectors, as we had seen in the past.

 

Moreover, can we imagine that activities such as assisting disabled children, serving hot meals to the needy and offering physical and emotional support to the elderly will be provided through coercion? Supreme Court Justice Edna Arbel already wrote: “I believe that coercion in this case is hopeless and won’t achieve a thing.”

 

Time, patience needed  

Parallel to the dramatic rise in the number of civil service volunteers, we are seeing a true revolution within haredi society and its worldview, which is increasingly opening up to the general population. I believe that genuine, deep change is a process that requires time and patience. This is, without a doubt, one of the most important lessons I learned on the job.

 

Civil service for haredim in the framework of the Tal Law was initiated in 2008. From zero volunteers we made it to more than 3,800 haredim who are volunteering now or have completed their volunteer service. This is most certainly an impressive figure, yet this change did not take place in one day. It’s a lengthy, complex process.

 

The civil service offered today is not only limited to institutions that serve the haredi community. The opposite is true – we encourage service in places where the general population can enjoy it (such as Magen David Adom ambulance service, the Fire Department, Rescue Services and so on.)

 

In any case, we make sure that the service environment will be haredi-friendly and that the required modesty and kashrut rules be maintained. We do not aim to encourage assimilation in secular society in order to blur the haredi identity. We allow haredi volunteers to maintain their customs and faith, while offering a significant contribution to society and to the state.

 

I believe that in order to promote equality in bearing the burden by all groups and sectors, we must boost voluntary civil service, reach agreements and understandings with haredi leaders, and stress the advantages and benefits inherent in serving along with the personal contribution to society and to the state. Any coercion attempt will result in failure, and we won’t gain from it.

 

Introducing mandatory service may also undermine our efforts and curb the accelerated process of haredi integration into the general public, a process that is currently in its midst.

 

Sar-Shalom Jerbi, director-general of the National-Civil Service Administration

 

 

 

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