Jerusalem Police clashed with ultra-Orthodox (haredi) Jews in the Meah Shearim neighborhood Monday after local residents hung three effigies of religious IDF soldiers during Purim celebrations. The effigies were defaced with the words “hardakim, get out!”, a reference to a vulgar Hebrew-language expression referring to haredim who choose to buck communal norms by serving in the Israeli military.
The topic of military service has been an explosive issue in the haredi world for generations. Although Orthodox Jews began immigrating from northern Europe and Russia to the Holy Land at the behest of community leaders there as early as the late 18th century, Orthodoxy as a whole was opposed to the emergence of Zionism a century later because the movement was staunchly secular. Many Orthodox Jews participated in Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, but during the 1950s Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion agreed to a limited exemption for haredi yeshiva (seminary) students who were enrolled in full-time religious study.
In recent years, however, there have been moves both within and outside the haredi community to make provisions for ultra-Orthodox boys who want to serve. The earliest of these initiatives, a strictly Orthodox division of the Nahal Brigade, was founded in the late 1990s. More recently, the IDF has worked closely with haredi authorities to make changes to military life that would allow members of that community to serve in conditions that will allow them both to serve and to retain the community’s strict religious standards, including high-level kosher food, gender separation and more.
As a result, the number of haredim serving in the IDF has grown steadily in recent years, to include approximately 5,000 soldiers at present, including computer programmers, aircraft mechanics, cyberwar professionals and in combat units.
At the same time, the pushback from the community towards those who serve has grown. Orthodox rallies against the draft often turn violent, and even non-violent demonstrations are often characterized by comparisons of Israel to the Nazis, children dressed in Nazi-style concentration camp clothes and denunciations of Israel and the IDF as “perverted,” “criminal” and “anti-Torah.”
Although standing IDF orders require soldiers to travel to and from their bases in uniform, soldiers from haredi communities are exempted from the rule if they feel that going home in uniform would put them in danger of verbal or physical abuse.
“I sometimes get comments on the bus, but I try to ignore it,” one haredi soldier told TPS speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized by the army to speak to the media, the soldier said he would continue to travel in uniform because he takes pride in the decision he’s made, he said a growing number of ultra-Orthodox youth would enlist if there wasn’t a community stigma surrounding the decision to serve.
“The thing that bothers me the most about the effigies, or when people insult me in my home community, is that the people who do these things are the only ones who actually say something. But they represent the views of a lot more people who agree with them,” the soldier said.
After removing the effigies, police said they found two additional dolls that were ready to be displayed and confiscated all of the items for further investigation. Police also asked the state prosecutor’s office for permission to open an investigation for incitement.
By: Andrew Friedman