NPR Audio: Haredi in Tzahal = Big News

The morning Edition on the way to work today reported on a classic man-bites-dog newsworthy story.

A Haredi soldier in Tzahal - the Israeli Defense forces.

Now let's get this very clear. 59 years into Statehood - Orthodox Jews still refuse to serve in the IDF.

Yes, it is true that some Orthodox do serve. There is a push to recruit a few Haredi units. Finally. But by and large, the visible - so called Ultras - now called Haredim - they do not serve.

This is heresy in action. Yes it is heresy in action. They live in Israel. They take the protection and support of the State of Israel. Yet they do not allow, they do not permit, their sons and daughters to serve in the Army - to protect the Jewish people.

Their reasons and rationales are not worthy of ridicule. Their culture denies the validity of the State of Israel.

For shame - for everlasting shame. These are the ultimate ingrates. And they are redemption deniers.

And now National Public Radio has come up with a story about one particular Haredi deviant - one bad seed - who dared to run off and join up.

He hides in a garage to meet with his friend. He worries and frets that his waywardness will affect the shidduchim - the marriage choices of his siblings. Who would want to marry into a family whose errant son ran off and joined the Israeli Army? There must be something wrong with that family!

This is hideous behavior that has been protected for too long. It is a shame - it is a heresy - it is a travesty.
Listen up to the whole report at NPR.
Listen to this story...

Morning Edition, April 16, 2007 · In Israel, nearly all Jewish citizens are required to serve in the military or perform national service when they turn 18. An exception is made for the Haredi, ultra-orthodox Jews who see military service as immoral. But some Haredi do serve.

Or perhaps read the transcript...
Ultra-Orthodox Israeli Soldier Faces Ostracism
Morning Edition: April 16, 2007


In Israel, secular and religious citizens remain sharply divided over the issue of military service.

All of Israel's Jewish citizens must serve in the military or perform national service when they turn 18, except Haredi, or ultra-orthodox. Most ultra-orthodox men choose deferment and instead get state support to study in religious schools. For the small number of young Haredi men who do decide to serve in the armed forces, the choice can often mean alienation from family, friends, and their strict religious community.

NPR's Eric Westervelt has the story of one such young man.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Twenty-one-year-old Youni Pouzin(ph) should feel at ease this day. He is back on his home turf seeing a best friend he has known since preschool. They're meeting in the suburban Tel Aviv neighborhood where they both grew up and where their large families still live.

Mr. YOUNI POUZIN: Maybe go and come this side over here.

WESTERVELT: Rail-thin and short, with a boyish face, Youni wears his crisp green Israel Defense Force uniform with pride and confidence. But back home here, he moves cautiously, anxiously, like a teenager sneaking out after curfew. Youni meets his friend not openly in a cafe or restaurant but in the garage of an apartment building.

It's Bnei Brak, a deeply conservative ultra-orthodox neighborhood, and most here view soldiers like Youni as corrupting outsiders who've lost their way spiritually. Youni's friend Rafi - he doesn't want his full name used - asked for the meeting to take place away from the busy street, deeper into the shadows.

RAFI: (Through translator) We can't really meet here in this area because his parents won't accept it.

WESTERVELT: His parents won't accept it, your parents may not accept it, but you do. Why do you have to hide? I mean, we're kind of hiding right now to meet with your friend. Why?

RAFI: (Through translator) I'm not afraid, but people will look at us or look at him and stare at us, and you want to feel comfortable when you're meeting. You want to feel free.

WESTERVELT: So freedom this day is a dimly lit parking lot. Welcome to Youni's world. Bnei Brak is on the edge of Tel Aviv, but it feels miles away from the secular beach side bar and bustle of Israel's largest metropolitan area. Youni's friend Rafi describes the chasm this way.

RAFI: (Through translator) The problem is that people here, when they see Youni in a uniform, they think that he's secular now and that he is not a good person anymore, and that is a problem. But I know that is not true. I know he still keeps his faith while serving in the army.

WESTERVELT: In this neighborhood as a teenager, Youni exhibited the kind of rebellious behavior typical of many teens. He snuck out, sometimes drank alcohol with friends, listened secretly to non-Haredi music, and watched late-night car races in Tel Aviv. He flirted with girls. Cigarettes were smoked. I was naughty, Youni says with a slight smirk, it was nonsense.

But within this tight-knight religious community, such actions were seen as shameful and wild. But to most in the neighborhood, none of that was nearly as shocking as Youni's decision to join the Israeli military.

Mr. POUZIN: (Through translator) In Haredi society, the army is the last thing you should be doing. Nobody here goes to the army. It's completely opposed to their beliefs. To them, even wasting a year on drugs is better than going to the army.

WESTERVELT: His parents were hurt and angry. They saw him as unfaithful to the stern religious and cultural norms of his upbringing. Practicing with his rifle instead of reading the Torah was seen as a deep betrayal. But at first they made a tentative peace with his decision, he says, when he joined the only ultra-orthodox unit in the Israeli military.

Never mind, Youni says, that only one-third of those in that unit were actually Haredi. The rest were religious young men who wanted the separation from women and strict kosher meals the unit offered. After less than a year, Youni badly wanted to be in a regular combat unit. He switched to an elite infantry battalion. For his parents, that was the last straw. His mother and father, and most of his 11 brothers and sisters, now completely shun him.

Mr. POUZIN: (Through translator) They slam the door in my face. They just won't accept me the way I am. They have cut off all ties of me.

WESTERVELT: My friends called me a dupe, he says. You sucker, you could be working and making money or studying in Yeshiva, his friends mocked, but you joined the army? Many friends no longer talk to me, Youni says; some won't even look me in the eye. It's as if I no longer exist. The army, those are my real friends now, Youni says wearily. And it's been a messy, alienating break with his family.

His army decision continues to reverberate. A male suitor for one of his six sisters tried to break off the engagement when the suitor's family learned about Youni.

Mr. POUZIN: (Through translator) They thought, maybe his family isn't Haredi enough. Look at the son. They worried they wouldn't be accepted by the community. It was very hard to keep the mass together. Now my 23-year-old brother is meeting girls for possible marriage; I just hope I haven't ruined his chances for a good match.

WESTERVELT: Occasionally, one sister who's married and lives in Jerusalem lets Youni come over for Shabbat dinners, but she does it on the sly, never telling their parents.

Driving around Youni's old neighborhood, he points to the synagogue where he used to pray. Nearby, Haredi men in their traditional black robes and wide hats bustle about as women shop before the Sabbath sundown. Don't turn down there, Youni pleads when we pass by his old street. He looks at the neighborhood with a hint of uncertainty and sadness in his voice.

Mr. POUZIN: (Through translator) I feel uncomfortable here, like I'm a stranger suddenly in my own society. People here ignore me. I have become secular. But I know what's important is in my soul, what's on the inside.

WESTERVELT: Despite the huge personal price he's paid, Youni insists he has no regrets. The army's completely changed me, he says. I have direction now and structure. Youni hopes to get his high school diploma and eventually go to college to study business after he is done with his army service in just a few short months. He'll then be an Israeli reserve soldier for the next 20 years.

I sense my 12-year-old sister is a little like me and may go in my path, Youni says hesitantly. I just hope, he adds, that if she does, my parents don't take it as hard as they took my decision.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Bnei Brak, Israel.


Anonymous said...

"Israeli government statistics show that fully 65% of draft-age Israelis are excused from military service." ?

(Of course, Tzvee is not inclined to lambaste anyone but the haredim.)

"That arrangement (with the religious scholars), part of the "religious status quo" (was) endorsed by Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion..." ?

"Former Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai testified before Israel's High Court ... that the current number of deferments on religious grounds did no harm whatsoever to the state. What's more, former army Chief of Staff Lt.-General Amnon Lipkin-Shahak has declared that the military is simply not prepared to absorb an influx of haredi soldiers."

More at http://www.jewishamerica.com/ja/content/

Tzvee Zahavy said...

Oy vey. You are quoting one of my very favorite distorters - Rabbi Avi Shafran. He has never allowed the truth to stand in his way. He says in the link you supply, "Are haredi men in Israel freeloading draft dodgers, contemptuous of their fellow citizens and unconcerned with their safety and security? Some ardently secularist Israelis readily answer in the affirmative; and some American Jews, gently guided by much of the media, readily concur. Both groups are victims of profound ignorance and, in more than a few cases, guilty of outright prejudice."

All the time, 24 hours a day, anyone who does not hold the opinion of the distinguished Rav Shafran is profoundly igonorant and outrightly prejudiced.

First lesson. Know your sources. A dubious source should never be cited.

Second lesson. Do your homework. At least have the courtesy to read the transcript or listen to the broadcast before you post to object.

Always glad to have you comment!

Anonymous said...

"First lesson. Know your sources. A dubious source should never be cited."

You had no problem citing NPR.

Reb Yudel said...


Don't you understand that it is the Torah study of the Haredim who prevent the destruction of the state by Arab armies -- just as the learning of the Haredim save world Jewry from the onslaughts of Hitler, Stalin, and U.S. President Lindbergh?

Anonymous said...

Reb Yudel,
It's too bad that your 'proof' doesn't match your funny sarcasm. It can be argued that there simply wasn't the critical mass of Torah/chessed/avoda required to thwart the onslaughts.