So frustrated about advice being given regarding army service!

When we first told ds19 (then almost 18) that we wanted to make aliyah, we told him he had the option to stay in the US.  He said it was a no-brainer for him – if his family was moving to Israel, he wasn’t going to stay behind in another country.  The only concern he had was regarding being drafted into the Israeli army.

I told him that this wouldn’t be a concern since there was a deferral for full-time yeshiva students, which he was.  He was very, very concerned about this point and I repeatedly reassured him that it would be fine.  After all, there are many thousands of yeshiva students and they all have the same situation as him, so why should there be a problem?

Six weeks after we arrived, he got his call up notice to the army.  We had been told that new immigrants or returning minors (his status) rarely were called up until after a year.  My husband spent the next sixteen months working on getting a deferral for ds, but the Tal Law changed this summer and there are now no deferrals being given to yeshiva students.  Ds is scheduled to be inducted in two months.  Yes, I do feel very badly about this.  If he had expected this to happen, he would have made a different choice about moving here.

As the months have gone by, I’ve repeatedly brought up to him the need to consider what will happen if he needs to serve in the army and to plan accordingly.  He can maximize his time there by networking and getting into a framework in which he can learn a skill or be with other charedi young men or whatever he wants.  I told him I’ll help him but he has to tell me that this is what he wants, because it’s a big project for me and I have other things to do with my time if this isn’t something he wants to pursue.  There are some decent alternatives, none of which are his ideal but I think they’re acceptable.

Now before I say anything else, I want to say that ds19 is a thoughtful and considerate person who really strives to do what is right in every situation.  He works on his character and tries hard to integrate his Torah learning into who he is.  He has been raised in a home that has stressed a work ethic that is contrary to his yeshiva framework and it has been difficult for him to balance the two paths, because in the world we live in it’s one way or the other.  He has asked grappled with questions regarding career that very few of his peers are asking and is really trying to find a way to be responsible long term financially and to keep his Torah studies in the forefront of his life.  It’s a very hard situation emotionally and the educational choices that we’ve made since living here have been in large part so that none of our next six sons need to be torn in different directions the way he is.

So he’s not a young man looking for others to take care of him or without a sense of communal responsibility.  He’s in a framework in which army service is strongly discouraged, which I understand.  However, I told him he must have a plan B if plan A – getting a deferral – doesn’t happen.

He told us he will follow the guidance of his rosh yeshiva in this regard, who is advising him according to the Torah leaders of Israel.  Today he called and told us that the plan is that he (along with many, many other young men in the same situation – he has been caught in the first wave of charedi boys to deal with the new political reality) will either get a deferral if the law changes between now and then, or he’ll go to jail.

When I heard that ‘go to jail’ was the advice he was given, I hit the roof.  Why are they advising him like this?  He really believes this is daas Torah.  He’s a trusting American kid with no connections and when they come to cart him off to jail, it’s not like the gedolim are going to be advocating for him personally.  I don’t believe being in jail is a fun or positive spiritual experience, and it sure doesn’t look good on his future record.  They make it sound as if he’s going to be taken to jail along with all of his buddies, but it’s not going to be like that. He’s going to be on his own.

Do they really think that going to jail is a better alternative than serving in the army?  I very much understand the reality of the army and that it’s not an ideal framework for a number of reasons.  I also understand that it’s not ideal for the Jewish country to be surrounded by millions of hostile neighbors who would like nothing more than to see every person in the country of Israel wiped out, and the army is a necessary defense force to ensure our survival.  I think most of the parents of young men as well as the young men themselves would prefer if this wan’t a mandatory part of growing up here, but this is our reality.

The charedi community wants to force the hand of the government and is threatening civil unrest if their sons are forced to go to the army.  I don’t agree with this approach and I don’t want my son caught in the middle of it.

It’s not easy for me as a parent to see ds being told this is the Torah approach, to see him being advised in a way that I think will be damaging…But I raised him with the understanding that being an adult means living his own life and making his own choices.  I’ve given my feedback and suggestions to the point that it was constructive.  We all want to save our children from roadblocks on the path of life that are apparent to us.   However, we can’t force our adult children to live their lives according to what we want.  And it’s only with hindsight that we’ll see what the consequences of a given approach are; I can’t confidently declare that I’m right and others are wrong.  It remains to be seen.

I don’t know how many parents are in our situation but I know that the entire country will be watching carefully to see how the first wave of unwilling charedi recruits will be handled.  As for me personally, I’m working on acceptance of what I can’t change.


24 thoughts on “So frustrated about advice being given regarding army service!

  1. Hi Aviva we’re dealing with the same thing, my ds he is being called up in 2 months. No deferment no matter what we’ve tried. My son tells me all the olim are going in together. With mandatory ulpan even though ds claims he doesn’t need it. Anyways, just wanted to let you know we’re all dealing with this. Unless your in haseder or possibly mechina.

    1. A mom, it’s really nice to hear from someone in the same situation! Living where I do and in the community I’m in, I feel quite alone with this issue. Ds also feels alone, since he’s in an American yeshiva and he’s the only one there who has to deal with this.

  2. There may also be an option to do national service – in the community – rather than army. I’m not sure how one finds out about this, but I have a friend I can ask. Her son got himself out of the army when they didn’t give him any of the jobs he wanted and what they gave him was driving him mad with boredom – instead he completed 2 years of national service.
    I will ask my friend if she or her son can share any information or guidance. It’s not the same situation, but still might give your son another alternative…

    1. I’m sorry but I’m going to have to delete most of message because the tone is very negative. There are a lot of very sincere and well-intended people in the charedi community, and though I don’t agree with the position being taken on the army, I can’t allow them to be spoken about like this on my blog.

  3. OY….This is crazy. I can’t believe the advice was to go to jail rather than do the hesder option. May you and your son be guided to the right answers here, Avivah.

  4. I think that even though your son is an adult – he still is dependent upon you and therefore you need ot make clear to him that going to jail is not an option you want him to follow.

    1. Ja’el, believe me I made it clear. Making something clear to an adult child doesn’t mean that they’ll act in accordance with your opinion of what is right, certainly not when they see it in opposition to what the Torah leaders are saying is right.

  5. I agree that going to jail is just stupid and not a good idea. For many reasons.

    But there also seems to be some confusion here about the whole idea of a deferral — a deferral means a delay, surely your son is looking for an exemption. Deferrals are given fairly easily, exemptions are not.

    So one idea could be to ask for a 1-year deferral, in order to do some specific program (eg a religious mechina). Hopefully, by the time the year is over, the politics of the situation will have sorted themselves out somewhat, without your son having been in the thick of it.

    There’s also the possibility of your son leaving the country for a few months or a year. Yes, he would be liable for the draft as soon as he got back, but the political issue is still volatile right now, and several months will allow you to see how it’s playing out.

    I know one kid who left the country when he realized he didn’t want to serve and hasn’t been back in years – he missed his brothers’ bar mitzvahs and a couple of family weddings – not an easy choice to make. I’m not sure how long you have to be out of the country before you can “just” visit (without being seized by the army) but I think it’s something like 7 or 10 years.

    I hope these ideas help you to help your son see that he has other options…

    1. No, he’s not trying to get an exemption but a deferral. And deferrals for full time yeshiva students are no longer being given. I wanted him to look into getting a different kind of referral in which he can get a degree through a recognized program run for Orthodox men, and then serve in the army using the skills he developed in the interim.

      This is an example of what I mean that there are other choices that I think are acceptable that he’s been told not to consider.

      He was considering leaving the country which would be illegal unless he got permission from the army and I was strongly cautioning him against going this route. I told him last week that it would mean ten years before he’d be allowed to visit us again, and as the oldest sibling, missing ten years would mean missing a lot of family events. He fortunately decided not to pursue that idea.

  6. While I am not part of the Chareidi camp (I am dati torani – my huband did hesder and I hope my boys will too), I understand the advice given to your son. In today’s political situation I think it is not possible to anyone in the mainstream chareidi society to give other advice. The draft seems to possibly spell the end to the current style of chareidi society, so agreeing for boys to go in is suicide for their current lifestyle.

    While I agree with you that as an individual, since he is am oleh, this should have been taken into consideration when his advice was given, however, living in Israel is often about sacrifices of the individual for the good of the nation. (Think, soldiers in the army, settlers in Chevron, people who refuse to leave Sderot despite bombings, settlers who first cleaned up the swamps at the cost of their own lives…) I think that the “sacrifice for the nation” consciousness is much stronger in Israel, and it is one of the reasons why this country exists – and is one of the beautiful parts of our nation. So, if Chareidi leaders see going to the army as bad for society as a whole, individuals will be sacrificed at this alter.

    Of course, being sacrificed at an alter is frustrating, especially if you don’t worship that alter, but I just wanted to be in my 2 cents in the reasoning behind the advice.

    (I also think that nobody actually believes that chareidim will be carted off to jail over this – none of the political parties want this to happen.)

    1. Sara, that is a very insightful comment.

      And I think that you’re right about the jail issue – hopefully this is just political posturing and will resolve without too much animosity on either side, with compromises that both sides can agree to.

      1. Another point to consider. You might ask your son to ask his rav again (perhaps specifically about the sherut ezrachi program) and give the additional bit of information that his parents are dead-set against him going to jail and extremely upset over this. This would make an extra consideration of kibbud horim that might allow the rav to give your son different advice. (But, this is useful only if your son would actually be interested in some kind of sherut program, assuming that it was ok-ed by his rav.)

  7. When you get called up there are medical screenings that have to be done. My husband got a medical exemption. If your son has any condiiton that would affect his “medical score” he would be either exempted or streamed into a support unit. For sure he won’t be in a combat unit because those you need to apply for early and they are extremely competitive with many exams and tests even before you are drafted. Maybe being a former homeschooler could be a strike against his acceptance :) Non-conforming upbringing and all that :)
    The tough love approach which can be painful would be to have your son make his choices but reiterate that should he chas v shalom end up in jail because he followed the “advice” of his Rav then it is his Rav that must take responsiblity for his well being and not you or your husband.

    ANd should he decide to appear at the conscription office – speak only English :) That way they will realize he needs to be in a program for non-Hebrew speakers :)

  8. Dear Aviva,
    My heart aches that you have yet another aliyah related stress to contend with. I am sending a virtual hug your way and pray that this will be resolved in a good way for your son and all others that have to deal with this. I think he got the psak he got, because the hareidi community views this current round of discussion as not being about the army service participation per say or the greater economic involvement by the hareidim because if that was the case there is plenty of room for a reasonable and non-coercive way to resolve this, there are some very levelheaded suggestions as to how that could be done but it is seen as nothing less than a political tool for forcing the hareidim to accept “the State” as the supreme deciding arbiter. To paraphrase one politician, he basically said that he wants the hareidim to accept that in the end of the day, they have to do what the state wants even if it goes against everything they hold holy. I might have my disagreements with the hareidi community and I do think that given an appropriate framework, army service can be very good for some young men but I don’t see how any religious person of any stripe could take the above lying down.
    Here is an article by Jonathan Rosenblum explaining the hareidi position very eloquently.
    It is incredibly distressing that something that could in theory be a unifying factor if handled poorly can instead make the rift even greater and reinforce all the worst stereotypes on both sides. So I really hope the voices of reason will prevail. But whatever your son decides, one thing is certain, you can be VERY proud of raising a man who doesn’t give up his principles for expediency or convenience at any cost. Hashem will surely bless him and you! So have a wonderful and very happy Purim! Purim is supposed to be a very good time to daven for whatever we need and just like we don’t turn away any poor person on Purim empty handed so Hashem doesn’t turn away any of our prayers on Purim either! Purim sameach and lots of love!

    1. Don’t feel sad for us, Regina – this is just part of living life. Issues come up that families have to deal with regardless of where they live.

      The link was excellent, thank you so much for sharing it! Yonason Rosenblum is a great spokesperson for the charedi community and I always enjoy – and usually agree with – what he writes.

      You’re right, it’s a shame that this army situation could be a huge win-win situation for the entire country if people would really be willing to see the other side and respectfully communicate and look for real solutions.

  9. i really have to say that i respect your son for making a stand for his principles. HOWEVER… i do agree with some others who have said that he needs to go back and re-ask his shailah with the added information of how strongly you and your husband feel about this issue and the idea of kibud av v’aym coming into play (this is SO major!). i think that there is a certain adrenalin rush that comes with taking a principled stand that can obscure 1) the true horror of potential consequences (i.e. actually going to jail- especially in a foreign country); 2) the collateral damage that one person’s stand has on those around him, i.e. family members and those who love him. it’s very easy to become swept away in a tide of passion around a burning issue (in this case chareidim in the military), but it honestly seems, at least from my limited understanding, like your son is being given guidance without all of the necessary facts… perhaps this p’sak works better for the boys who indeed will be together, and are israeli, and know the system, and on and on- none of which apply to your son. i know you are trying to respect his autonomy, but please do urge him to ask again, stressing that his circumstances are SO different in SO many ways, that perhaps he should not take the same stand as the other chareidi boys, and that doesn’t make him any less devoted or righteous; it simply recognizes some very real differences… other than that, remember that this is a time of miracles and redemption for klal yisrael, and we will all be davening for you and your family… the fact that your son is so courageous and so strong is a testament to your amazing example and upbringing! big hugs- julie

    1. Julie, I have to clarify that my son isn’t happy about this suggestion and definitely isn’t being swept up by youthful idealistic passion. He’s willing to go along with something he doesn’t want to do if he feels it’s really the right thing to do. He asked us for the names and contact of other rabbis to discuss this with who might be able to share a different perspective but he’s not willing to do something against a Torah stance.

  10. Did you try talking to Dov Lipman of Yesh Atid?

    “We need not demand that every yeshiva student serve in the IDF.

    There will also be civil service programs in hospitals, with Magen David Adom, in neighborhood patrols, and providing assistance to Holocaust survivors – mitzvot and admirable actions that no rabbi can say oppose Torah values.

    Everyone, including yeshiva students, must contribute to the country through civil or military service. I am proud to be a Knesset member from a party whose leader has a vision, who understands that the time has come to restore the true Jewish tradition of combining Torah with work.”

  11. this is the exact thing i am very scared about. we are planning on making Aliyah in the fall or winter (we consider ourselves Out of Town Yeshivish–went to yeshiva/seminary but now husband works). We have a 2 year old boy and hope the poilicial situation/army/charedi mentality will change in the next 16 years. I hope they come up with an acceptable win/win situation for our young boys. I have no problem in theory with my son doing some kind of service for EY. For hundreds of years people have giving up so much to live in our holyland. Why can’t this generation do the same? But I know that if my family wants to be accepted in the mainstream charedi society, I have to keep my thoughts to myself and my mouth shut. Hashem should send the full geula b/c we need His help to get us out of this mess.

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