Thinking outside the box on Israel's Haredi community
Opinion: Instead of arguing with the ultra-Orthodox, let's find creative solutions to integrate them into society, even if that means dropping the conscription demand and investing instead in higher education and professional training that would benefit society as a whole
The recent fight between Blue and White MK Yair Lapid and ultra-Orthodox politicians is one between two extremes who are unwilling to come up with a solution to a fundamental issue in Israeli society.
Lapid is chasing Yisrael Beytenu's Avigdor Liberman as the latter steals away voters who think that the ultra-Orthodox are stealing their country while Shas' Aryeh Deri and United Torah Judaism's Yaakov Litzman give thanks to God for sending them this Lapid guy. Meanwhile, no one is dealing with the real problem at hand.
Conscripting ultra-Orthodox into the army is probably not going to work in the coming years. And let me tell you a little secret – these days, almost nobody in Israel is enlisted against their will.
The last Knesset dissolved because of a row between Liberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the ultra-Orthodox draft. In reality, Netanyahu is not interested in this issue at all; he has sided completely with the ultra-Orthodox who want to preserve their long-standing social structures.
But this means that Liberman and Lapid see a chance to harvest some votes from this argument and in in the meantime, new ideas are arising on how to inegrate this traditionally insular community into the modern world.
Two people who are very far away from one another on the political map have been talking lately about taking a different approach. Religious Zionist MK Naftali Bennett was first, and now center-left former prime minister Ehud Barak has also joined him.
They are talking about a solution from outside the box: full exemption for ultra-Orthodox from serving in the army. No quotas and no criminal sanctions, and no one forced to enlist against their will.
One must assume that such a solution would lead to the yeshivas being emptied of the considerable number of ultra-Orthodox boys seeking asylum there. The military police could no longer be used by rabbis as a tool to threaten and force those whose souls do not desire to study the Torah. As a result, the yeshiva budgets that are calculated per capita would shrink drastically.
On the other hand, whoever does choose to remain at a yeshiva would do so from his own free will - and perhaps David Ben-Gurion's vision of a team of ultra-Orthodox elite scholars will finally come true.
All those who leave the yeshiva would not have to leave the ultra-Orthodox world; they would be able to integrate into academia, the workforce and even the army.
There has been a big shift in the Haredi community with exponential growth in the number of ultra-Orthodox men and women entering higher education. They are studying therapeutic professions such as speech therapy and nursing, but also law, business management and programming.
In a decade's time, the workforce will have thousands more ultra-Orthodox employees and professionals. Some will even find their way into key positions.
Young people who grew up in households in which the only option was to study at a kollel (religious seminary for married men) suddenly have the opportunity to live an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle while making an honest living and strengthening the economy while they're at it.
We will all gain from it - smaller budgets for the yeshivas, a select group of those who do study Torah, many more ultra-Orthodox in the workforce and a lot more taxes paid by them.
The only losers here are the Lapids, Libermans, Deris and Litzmans.