Earlier this week, the Israeli Supreme Court handed down a decision overturning the military service exemption for the Ultra-Orthodox. I understand the thoughts behind the exemption’s origins– fear that the Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox) would assimilate entirely, and that culture would die out. I see eye-to-eye with the Ultra-Orthodox on zero issues, but I can get behind the value of preserving the culture. The number of Ultra-Orthodox, however, has grown by leaps and bounds, and that protection is no longer a problem. In a country where military service (with a civil service option) is mandatory, it should be mandatory for everyone. About 15% of the Ultra-Orthodox already enlist, clearly religious accommodation can be provided, but its time for the Ultra-Orthodox, who receive generous support from the Israeli Government, to step up to their responsibilities as citizens. I’m anxious to see how this all plays out. Ultra-Orthodox fanaticism has been getting increasing media attention. It’s as frightening and damaging of any other strain of religious fanaticism.
In 2001, I went on a 10 day tour of Israel. Although it was a fun trip with many amazing sights, the impression that was most lasting was the tension. There was plenty of Arab/Israeli tension that summer (a beachfront night club in Tel Aviv was bombed only days after we left the city), but it was the tension between Jews that was palpable. The security guards for our buses were secular Jews. When asked about the Ultra-Orthodox, their responses dripped with disdain. I can only imagine how much the tension has grown with 11 more years of building resentment.