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7 Teves 5773 - December 19, 2012 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion and Comment: The Perils of Sherut Leumi

by Yated Ne'eman Editorial Board

One of the most bitter battles waged by Torah Jewry was against the Sherut Leumi ("National Service") law passed in the early days of the State. After the government agreed to exempt girls who declared their observance of mitzvos from service in the army, there was an attempt to enact a compulsory Sherut Leumi law outside of the military framework. Gedolei Yisroel were strongly united against the initiative. The first letter was published in 5712 (1952) signed by HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer, the Tchebiner Rov, HaRav Tzvi Pesach Frank and HaRav Zelig Reuven Bengis zt"l. They wrote: "The prohibition against drafting women fully includes Sherut Leumi... we turn to all Jewish daughters... and you are obligated to prefer being jailed and to accept poverty and suffering and to sanctify His name yisborach..."

The issue came up again and again. When they saw that they could not make it compulsory, they set up a voluntary organization, hoping that they could entice girls to join. The Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah published a strong letter in 5732 (1972) whose signatories included Maran HaRav Shach, HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz, HaRav Yechezkel Abramsky, the Admor of Gur and the Admor of Vishnitz. It read, in part, " is a serious issur for a bas Yisroel to join voluntarily Sherut Leumi in any framework..."

The Steipler wrote, "...there is no doubt that through this kind of draft most of them will be messed up Rachmono litzlan, and the Rambam z"l wrote that one is influenced by his surroundings etc. and all the more so girls, and the enticements and incentives for a life of hollelus and prikas ol are without number and what can the girl do so as not to sin?"

This psak was accepted by Torah Jewry. However the rabbonim of the National-Religious movement decided that the graduates of its educational institutions should serve in Sherut Leumi. Some of the rabbonim even thought about permitting serving in the army (as quoted by Rav Moshe Sheinfeld).

What reminded us of the historic battles was a recent article that appeared in the feature section of the magazine BeSheva that is put out by Channel 7, a national-religious publication. Entitled "Zehirut, Sherut Lefonech," parts of it seem like material that the rabbonim read before writing their sharp letters. "The enticements and incentives for a life of hollelus and prikas ol" are presented in detail.

The mother of a girl who had just finished school in the Shomron and was doing her year of sherut in a totally secular institution for youth-at-risk complained: "With all the importance attached to the ideals of giving to Am Yisrael — that I do not for a minute minimize — how lema'an Hashem do they allow a religious girl to be almost completely alone in a place like this?" She discusses the influence of the environment: "Man is a creature that is influenced by what surrounds him. Even if she is the strongest of most secure intellectually, whether she wills it or not, after a year she will be influenced by what surrounds her... It is beyond my comprehension how our organizations allow a place like this one. Did anyone fully investigate the challenges to faith and values that arise from the situation into which they put her?... It is a situation of `What can the boy do not to sin?' Next to her apartment is a group of chilonim her age, idealistic and serious, but what is there to do? They have a world of different values from hers and it is very problematic."

One girl who did Sherut Leumi several years ago in an internal medicine ward in one of the hospitals said, "The atmosphere during the day was not for me... I called the coordinator and explained what I have to deal with. She listened to me impatiently and said, `I'll get back to you.' I am still waiting for her to get back to me." She left the whole program in the middle of the year.

There are many stories of the difficulties the girls have and some of the dangers that result from contact with all sorts of elements including young Arab co- workers. That rav of Ramat Gan, Rav Yaakov Ariel, expresses his concern: "Over and over again I encounter problematic situations with girls in Sherut Leumi. There are girls in the police, in government offices, in hospitals, and there is not enough supervision. I will say something very sharp, but I am pained to say that the Sherut Leumi has lost its way... Today in the Sherut Leumi that are too many cases of more damage than benefit... The girls change their outward appearance and of course this expresses also an inner change." Rav Shmuel Eliahu, the rav of Tzfas, says, "It is osur for any girl to serve in the police, the court system, the prison system, the hospitals and any of the places that are known to have evil results. It is yehoreig ve'al ya'avor."

Not surprisingly, when the reporter asked officials of the organizations responsible for Sherut Leumi they minimized the problems and insisted that they supervised all the girls carefully. But the problems are real and well-known.

Once there were even voices within the chareidi community that "could not understand" the objections of gedolei Yisroel to something as seemingly innocuous as national service. But time as made clear to all what the gedolim saw in advance with their clear vision. Whoever wants to draw inferences from the strong current protests against the various paths and enticements to serve in the army, is free to do so.


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