I know this story highlights what might seem even more strange to non-Jews than it does to Jews: ultra-Orthodox Israelis who choose to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces (I’ll post a link to the transcript later today). Some of the problems addressed: they are viewed as secular by their friends and family, they are concerned for the disgrace that their family members feel over their entrance into the IDF, they feel unable to go home, to visit with their own or be seen with them. There is only one unit, Nahal Haredi, for the haredi and even then, NPR says that the unit (1000 troops) is called only 1/3 haredi because of the differences in how strictly the individuals adhere to Orthodoxy.
The NPR segment identifies the following reasons why the ultra-Orthodox want the exemption from service: so they can study, so they can make money, so they can avoid danger and because, according to NPR, they see military service as “immoral.”
While all those goals are served by not serving, there is another reason why the ultra-Orthodox don’t serve that wasn’t mentioned: the ultra-Orthodox don’t believe that the state of Israel should exist before the coming of the Messiah. And so they won’t defend it.
Remember the Jews who went to the Iranian Holocaust conference? Some of them were said to be affiliated with Neturei Karta. These are individuals who rely on interpretations of Jewish law and texts that they believe dictate that Israel not exist.
While this point might seem more technical than you think NPR needs to or needed to get, there are many Orthodox within Judaism, globally, and yet the typical American has never met a Jew of any flavor – just look at the numbers. And although I’ve grown up and continue live in and around everyone including Jews, if you’ve never met a Jew and only know Jews from the media, well…NPR would have done well to identify this state of Israel-related reason for why the haredi don’t usually serve in the IDF.
If you want to get an excellent idea of how this issue applies practically, A Mother in Israel is a fantastic blog – well-written, by a mom of five (is it five?! yes, not four, but not six I think) who made aliyah many years ago but actually grew up part of her life in the Midwest. I’ve exchanged numerous emails with her and other personal information and assure you that if you want a real flavor of life after moving permanently to Israel, as a modern Orthodox Jew (though I don’t know if she actually would refer to herself that way but I think that’s pretty much how we’d classify her here – feel free to comment on that Mother in Israel), hers is a good one to read.
Here are posts that examine the choices for a high school boy in Israel who is raised Orthodox, though not ultra-Orthodox. I’ve also emailed this post to Mother in Israel with the hope that she’ll chime in.