The government has approved a program for recruiting ultra-Orthodox youths and the opposition warns the move will merely legitimize draft-dodging, but what do the yeshiva and kolel students themselves say? The haredim say the "real" Torah scholars, who devote their whole lives to their studies, will not be tempted to leave the yeshiva benches despite the incentives to sign up to military or National Service.
It is expected that only those who have already decided not to devote themselves completely to Torah study – regardless of the government decision – will in fact sign up.
H., 24, a student in an esteemed Lithuanian yeshiva in Jerusalem, told Ynet the government move would not make him leave. "We didn't choose to study in order to avoid obligatory service," he explained. "We believe in the study of the Torah as a value in itself."
H. says the Israeli public must understand that no "real" haredi would serve in the army for ideological reasons, and those that do only do so because it is convenient and "it pays." This, he says, is a worldview based on education and belief that can't be changed, and that does not seek confrontation with secular-Zionist values.
"We respect and esteem those who sign up honestly to serve the State, but we have a different ideology," he says. This situation must be acknowledged, in his opinion - military service must be cancelled and the army made professional "like everywhere else in the world."
Contributing to State
A. didn't wait for the government decision – he has already signed up. A student at a kolel in the Jerusalem area and father of three, he is due to begin his stint with Magen David Atom emergency services next month. During the past 18 months he volunteered with the organization as a medic and will start next month as part of his National Service. He emphasizes he is not leaving the Torah, and will study in the afternoon and evenings. He chose National Service over military service in order to contribute to the State and then be able to integrate in the job market.
A. rejects the claim that the government decision will encourage draft-dodging. Those who don't want to leave the yeshivot won't leave in any case, he explains, but the government move will assist those who are considering it.
He agrees with those Israelis who look askance at the relatively light military service the yeshiva students will undergo, but says "it must be remembered that we come from a very different background, lifestyle and culture."
'Doing no less than soldiers'
"I believe that with my Torah studies I am doing no less for the State than the soldiers, and don't forget that not everyone is a combat soldier," A. says.
He says he wants to contribute, but at his age and with his family, and taking his worldview into account, he should be allowed to serve in a significant framework but in an environment that does not undermine his religious beliefs.
"Working with the haredi population is not easy," National Service directorate chief Sar-Shalom Jerbi, said. "We encounter many barriers and suspicions from yeshiva heads and families of students. Despite the complexity of the issue, we have had a good response from this sector when we explained the importance of volunteering for the community and the efforts being made to ensure the character of the haredi lifestyle during National Service."
"The numbers speak for themselves," Jerbi added. "We have already seen a dramatic rise in the number of haredi volunteers. Some 1,550 haredi volunteers now serve, and another 120 new volunteers are being recruited in various National Service programs."
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