Whether you encounter this particular mentality within Israeli society depends on what circles you’re in and whether you yourself possess a mentality that allows you to recognize the dynamic when you see it.
So this is what it is:
Many (probably even most) Israelis are brought up with the idea that IDF service IN AND OF ITSELF is an all-important & VITAL contribution.
Yes: Vital. Absolutely Essential!
It does not matter whether you only served 3 days a week or every other week (AKA shavua-shavua, which for guys equals 1.5 years of service, not 3).
It does not matter the sheer uselessness of your role. (Some army duties are made up out of thin air simply to fulfill the demand.)
It doesn’t matter if you served as, say, a jeep mechanic (which you chose, not out of Zionist idealism, but in order to get a head start on the vocation you’re aiming for after your reluctant army service ends), and while yes, of course an army needs expert jeep mechanics, they don’t need SO MANY.
In other words, the actual job is important but you personally are expendable. The IDF has a surplus of jeep mechanics. Yet despite that, you have made an all-important contribution to your country and shared the burden - unlike those parasitic yeshivah bums. [sarc]
It doesn’t matter if you are recruited into a role which you PHYSICALLY CANNOT perform, such as an 18-year-old Moroccan pixie from Dimona assigned to the fire brigade when she lacks the upper body strength to manage the high-powered fire hose.
And because even 2 girls together are not strong enough to handle the hose, they need a male colleague to join them in order for the girls to simply pass the test.
How on earth is this kind of assignment remotely rational or productive?
(Just for knowing, fire fighters serve in the IAF [Israeli Air Force] as part of the on-call emergency team at the runway for incoming fighter jets. Part of the fire-training is sawing through the window of the cockpit of a burning plane to extract the pilot. This needs to be done carefully so as not to decapitate the pilot in the process. Do I really need to explain that most teenage girls not only lack the basic physical strength for such maneuvers, but lack even the potential of gaining the necessary muscle unless they take steroids? I guess I do, because the army has girls serving in the IAF fire brigade! Someone should really tell the fellows in the top-brass…)
It doesn’t matter if you spent a massive part of your “army” service noshing on American candy bars while watching American sitcoms in an air-conditioned room on an IDF base (which does nothing to protect us from our enemies, unless of course, ISIS savages faint at the smell of chocolate-peanut breath and the sound of scripted punchlines).
The fact that you are officially enlisted in the IDF means that you are paying your dues to society.
Not All Service is Equal
Just the barebones fact that you are enlisted awards you with social credit.
To be clear: I’m NOT talking about combat and essential military non-combat duties.
I appreciate combat soldiers and all the non-combat yet essential military personnel working for our national security.
Just for knowing, when I pass through a checkpoint, whether at a mall or the Kotel or anywhere else, I tell the soldier or security guard, "Hashem yishmor otcha, tizkeh l'mitzvot - May Hashem protect you & and may you continue to merit doing mitzvot."
So while I write against the forced draft for females & yeshivah bachurs, it's not from a lack of appreciation for what effective IDF positions do.
I fully realize that many soldiers (and police & security guards for that matter) are prepared to suffer trauma, injury, and even death (chas v'shalom) so that I and everyone else in the country can live here.
However, hungover kvetchy moppers are not anywhere in the same league—which Israelis acknowledge. But what many Israelis don’t acknowledge is that the hungover kvetchy moppers and the pixie fire girls DON’T CONTRIBUTE AT ALL IN ANY WAY. Their service was meaningless. It was nothing.
Many Israelis cannot emotionally face this fact.
“Paying your debt to society.”
I’m not saying that Israelis use this exact term. But many express that attitude when talking about their army service.
That’s how many Israelis see their army service.
And again, they see army service this way even if they did nothing useful for 2 or 3 years. They paid their debt to society. They shared their part of the burden.
If you’re American, you’re probably familiar with that phrase being utilized to describe the purpose of prison (which is also an absurd concept. How does sitting in a cell pay any kind of debt to society?).
In contrast to what you generally see on English-language Jewish media, which focuses on combat soldiers (who are of course going to be more enthusiastic and idealistic about their service), the non-essential jobnik Israelis actively pursue the least demanding & fulfilling roles in the army.
They don’t want to be there and focus on getting through the army in the least demanding way possible.
The Fast-Track to Greatness?
And this is a HUGE thing that needs attention.
Because of this mentality (“Army service over all”), this means that a non-Jewish Ukranian thug officially enlisted in the IDF (even if he does nothing) has social worth while someone on the level of Rav Kanievsky is considered a parasite, chas v’shalom.
The same is true of the daughter of a Jewish father and the non-Jewish woman he brought over from Russia or Thailand or England.
Her army service grants her social & cultural superiority over a non-serving Torah Jew.
That’s right—in Eretz Yisrael, where Jews & Torah are more important than anything else.
To repeat: A non-Jew of Jew-hating lineage (i.e., many Ukrainians) can acquire cultural & social superiority over fully shomer Torah & mitzvot Jews (including tzaddikim) simply by waving the magic wand of army “service.”
Do you think that’s a coincidence of propaganda?
I don’t. Definitely not.
Let’s go on.
The Crucial Question Tearing Society Apart:
Is Israel Located in the Middle East...or Candy Land?
(This is why I never bring this up to non-charedi Israelis. Actually, that's not completely true. I did bring it up twice as you'll soon see. Once, very carefully; and another time, quite by accident, which I kind of regretted later.)
Disturbingly, many Israelis never considered the VALUE of their service.
Why should meaningfulness or military usefulness be important to a tiny nation surrounded by some of the most vicious & savage terrorists on the planet?
Are we living in the Middle East or in Candy Land?
Quite frankly, some of us are concerned about massive armies of bloodthirsty Jew-haters on every border—and the fifth column WITHIN our borders.
Can't we focus on that?
Yet certain types of Israelis never consider the concept of military usefulness. (That’s scary because it’s such an obvious lack of logic that the only reason for this can be brainwashing and propaganda.)
And they can get angry because they don’t appreciate the idea that all their “suffering” (i.e., undergoing basic training for nothing, then carrying out boring & meaningless roles) was for naught.
Or because something on which they hang their “rights” as a citizen is actually meaningless in the scheme of things—if you look at the whole situation from a purely rational point of view.
Especially with non-Jewish Russian soldiers or the non-Jewish children of Israeli intermarriage, they get their socially inferred "superiority" over fully Torah Jews simply because of their army enlistment. Ta-dah!
The dati-leumi are more aware of this contradiction, partly because their girls tend to do sherut leumi rather than the army, and so they’re already aware of the reasons why not EVERYONE needs to be in the army.
M-16s for Boys & Uzis for Girls
It generally came from secular girls who complained about how meaningless & frustrating their service felt, stupid regulations and capricious commanding officers, and in the case of guard duty—fear of having to actually use their weapon and training.
As the wife (who is now fully frum and a really lovely person) of my husband’s brother told me, “When I was out there guarding the base, I was so scared! I kept hoping that nothing would ever happen because despite my training, I really didn’t feel up to actually fighting. I decided to myself that if worse came to worse, I would just let the male soldiers handle it.”
She looked at me. “I really don’t think that girls are cut out for this kind of thing. Do you?”
Obviously, she couldn’t say that during her service because a guard cannot have a preset plan to duck out during an attack.
(And it actually happened at one base, when a male soldier turned tail under a surprise attack, which led to several deaths on base.)
But my sister-in-law was genuinely frightened at the prospect of a machine gun battle. She’s a quiet, gentle, lovely soul and not cut out for gun battles. And that was her enforced, reluctant, share-the-burden service to her country (which again, wasn't real service; she didn't do anything).
Another secular Israel girl told me, “We carried Uzis—with no bullets! The boys got M-16s with ammunition, but the girls got empty Uzis that we HAD to carry around all the time! What for? It was so stupid!”
(FYI: My son claims this is no longer true, that there is no longer a gender split over who gets the Uzis and who gets the M-16s, and also girl-soldiers no longer go about with empty rifles.)
But later, as a young married woman accompanying my husband in kiruv, I was exposed to the completely brainwashed Israelis, as you’ll see from the following examples...
Story #1: "At Least He Did His Army Service."
During our early years of marriage, my husband (who learned in kollel full-time) worked part-time alongside secular mildly Leftist Israeli university students who all wore long hair pulled back in ponytails.
During free moments, these young men enjoyed interacting with my husband via chatting or short ‘n’ friendly religious debates.
Accompanying my husband, I mostly just listened.
Yet curious to the extent of the insistence on the overriding importance of army service for all no matter what, I ended up asking one of the guys about his thoughts on the issue while my husband was nearby.
This university student was a particularly nice and intelligent guy.
First, I acknowledged the importance of combat soldiers and any other role necessary for security—whether it was the cook who fed the soldiers or the guy sitting behind a computer in Intelligence.
Soldiers need to eat. And technology plays a huge role in security these days.
I also emphasized that I was not looking to argue or criticize, but simply wanted to understand out of genuine curiosity.
Then I presented him with a theoretical (yet actual) situation in which an Israeli serves a non-essential army position, then immediately leaves the country to settle in Europe or North America, and never contributes in any way to the State of Israel.
Then I contrasted that to a guy (frum, of course) who never serves in the IDF, but pays taxes, gets married and raises a family in Israel (contributing to the population). As a consumer and a citizen, he contributes naturally to the Israeli economy and society in a positive way. He gives tzedakah to help his fellow poor.
Then I asked the big questions:
- Who really made a contribution to Israeli society, to Medinat Yisrael?
- And is it okay that the second guy never served in the army?
To his credit, the university student spent several moments giving the questions serious thought.
He even paused in his pondering to reassure me that he definitely understood where I was coming from and that he understood and even appreciated the point (which, because of all the propaganda—my word, not his—he’d never considered).
Then he continued to mull it over.
Interestingly, his facial expressions and the way he made fists showed that he was actually wrestling with the question.
But finally, he shook his head and said, “I see what you’re saying—I definitely understand and think you have a point, but”—he grimaced and shook his head—“but I just”—he shook his head again and knocked his fists against the desk. “I just think that”—he took a deep breath—“at least the first guy did army service. At least he did that.”
“Even though he ultimately contributed nothing to the country?” I said.
He winced and held up his hands, shaking his head, “I know…I understand the point—and it’s a good question! But I just can’t—” His hands fell with a smack on the desktop and he looked me in the eye. “At least he did his army service.”
“So he contributed more than the other guy who didn’t do the army?” I said.
“Yeah,” he nodded. “Yeah. That’s right.”
I thanked him very nicely and told him how much I appreciated his time & honesty, then turned back to where my husband was talking to someone else.
I was sad because the university student was a nice and intelligent person and he was willing to listen to an opposing idea. And he DID get it, but simply could not overcome his programming.
But it taught me a big lesson.
The dedication to the idea of "army service for all" is deep-seated to the point of irrationality.
Story #2: How Dare She Not Swing Her Ponytail for the Cause!
“She never served in the IDF!” he protested. “How can we grant an award to someone who doesn’t even fulfill the basic obligation of every Israeli citizen?”
The article grew even more ridiculous and perplexing as it revealed that his oh-so heilige army service consisted of the army choir. And that would have been her army service, too.
If you haven’t seen the girls of the IDF choir, this oh-so vital military service consists of them singing while swinging their hips and ponytails and wearing an IDF uniform shirt that’s unbuttoned too low. (Actually, I think their performances are even more daring and competitive now.)
And then of course, religious male soldiers are raked across the coals because they don’t want to watch their sisters objectifying themselves. Such fanatics!
Anyway, this male singer was outraged that she hadn’t served in this all-important military position—how disloyal and unpatriotic, shirking her military duty when EVERYONE ELSE serves their time! How dare she receive an award!
Story #3: Armored Corps Avoidance Anxiety Disorder (ACAAD)
This young woman became convinced of the truth of Torah and took upon herself Torah and mitzvot, plus attended classes and read books—but she was agonizingly conflicted.
She approached me, then started asking me about some standard issues that people have when making the BT transition. And she was asking in an increasingly angsty manner.
And I empathized with her, having gone through it myself. So I just calmly answered her issues as best I could.
But she grew increasingly overwrought and I thought that maybe I wasn’t expressing myself coherently enough (Hebrew being my second language and all), so I pleasantly suggested that she ask the people whose classes she attended back home. They’d heard these questions repeatedly and have no problem discussing these issues.
“I did ask them!” she insisted. “But I just…”
And then she kept expressing her conflict over it all.
That’s when I understood she was in the very normal transition stage of teshuvah.
This stage pops up again and again throughout life each time you need to cross another bridge in your lifelong journey of continuous self-transformation.
(I always really hate this stage because it feels like a hermit crab without its shell, but it’s a normal & necessary part of the teshuvah process. Please see What's Stopping You from Making Real Change? for more.)
Basically, her head is in one place (what the rabbis explained to her) while her heart is in another place (what she still feels is correct).
In other words: inner conflict. Yuck.
So I realized I couldn’t help her more than her rabbis and rebbetzins already were. You can’t hand people their Yiddishkeit, hashkafah, and emuna on a silver platter.
After all is said & done, we all have to work for it and that’s just the reality of the process.
So I just remained sympathetic, but didn’t say much because transition is a really angsty place to be, and empathy and patience is often the only way to respond. Ultimately, they need to work through it themselves somehow.
But she pressed on, this time about army service.
“Everyone in my family goes into the armored corps!” she said. “My parents, my uncles, my siblings, my cousins—everyone! It’s our family tradition! Yet I’m the only who’s not. And they keep asking me, they keep pressuring me about it—‘You need to participate too! You also need to give to your country! Why can’t you keep Shabbat & kosher in the armored corps?' ”
Now, this is very normal albeit distressing. Israeli baalei teshuvah who still live at home can go through heck with their families.
I learned of this distressing dynamic when I encountered the Neve girls in the Israeli section. I noticed that many of them looked stoic and even miserable, but I didn’t understand why. They seemed very committed to Yiddishkeit, so why were they so unhappy?
Then one day, when a friend & I expressed our friendly envy of the Israeli girls who already knew Hebrew (obviously) and therefore, had a much easier time learning Chumash and the like, one Israeli girl suddenly blurted out with great bitterness, “Well, you Americans are so lucky! You don’t know what it’s like for us. We’re here in Neve for the week and get all this inspiration and support, but every Shabbat, we have to go back to our families and deal with keeping Shabbos & kashrut in a secular home, plus being argued with and attacked for all our frumkeit and new hashkafot! But YOU never have to deal with THAT on a regular basis! You're spoiled!”
And she was right.
We Anglos have the opportunity to ensconce ourselves within a BT seminary or yeshivah without being forced into the old environment every week, not to mention the unwanted confrontations with disapproving family members and “friends.”
These young Israeli baalei teshuvah can have a very, very hard time.
So it apparently was with this the young woman I encountered at the Shabbaton.
And as I tried gently answering her, she kept cutting me off, repeating the same questions, and getting more overwrought.
But one thing didn’t make sense to me at that time.
Why was it so important for her, as a girl, to go into the armored corps with the tanks and all that?
Why was that such an issue? (Remember, at that time, I still hadn’t realized how deep the propaganda went in the minds of secular Israelis.)
So I said, “Wait a minute. I don’t understand something. You’re saying how important to your family it is for you to join the tankistim, but why?”
And her eyes popped wide open, her mouth shut, and she straightened up. And she didn’t say a word.
Because she didn’t respond, I thought maybe I hadn't been clear, so I decided to ask in another way: “I mean, girls don’t actually go in the tanks, right?”
A laugh burst out of her. “Oh no, not at all!” she said. “Of course girls don’t go out to battle!” She kept laughing and rolling her eyes.
“Okay,” I said, pleasantly. “So what would you be doing there?”
She gave a short incredulous laugh. “I would be serving!”
“Okay,” I said. “But doing what?”
I honestly wanted to know.
Because she and her family were obviously so overwrought about her not enlisting in the armored corps, I was trying to figure out WHY her enlistment was of such vital importance to them. I felt I was missing some vital piece of information.
Now she started stammering and just kept repeating how everyone in her family served in the armored corps and that this was just what her family did and she was letting everyone down by not serving.
And I was becoming increasingly bewildered. So I kept probing for the reason why her service was so essential.
I mean, what was she, as a girl, going to be doing for the armored corps that was so vital to the military capabilities of the IDF?
She frowned and wrinkled her nose at me and gave me a crooked smile. “Well, I don’t KNOW,” she said, “because I haven’t actually enlisted, so I don’t KNOW what they would assign me.”
Wanting to be helpful, I prompted her: “Well, what did your sisters and female cousins do in the armored corps?”
She started stammering out answers again, like all sorts of stam busywork that her female relatives carried out.
“But what did that DO for the military effort?” I said. “I mean, how did that help the armored corps exactly?”
Finally, she pulled up and stared out me with a slightly opened mouth and wide eyes.
I realized I’d crossed some kind of line, but wasn’t sure what.
“I honestly wish to understand,” I tried to explain. “That’s why I keep asking. I’m honestly trying to understand why a girl serving in the armored corps is so important.”
Then she stared at me one moment more, turned around, and left.
And she avoided me for the rest of Shabbat.
I felt really bad at the time because I felt like I’d pushed her over some kind of edge. I’d engaged in a confrontation without even realizing it. And I wasn’t looking to break or crush anyone.
I tried to make it up to her by being really nice and non-threatening during the rest of Shabbat, but every time I approached her, her eyes widened and she took off.
But that & the discussion with the thoughtful university Leftist clinched it for me: There is a cult-like mentality regarding IDF service that overrides all reason and logic.
So why all the pressure?
Ironically, despite this secular Israeli mentality of “Army Service Over All,” many of those same people don’t care much whether charedim serve.
Because they wish they didn’t have to serve, many of these same people aren’t so upset by charedim avoiding the draft. It makes sense to them. So it depends who. Some resent the seeming unfairness, others are apathetic.
It's a contradiction, no?
Why is there such a contradiction? It's because much of the outrage, resentment, and self-righteousness isn't really real. It's media-created.
You have certain Jewish media & politicians whipping people into a frenzy about an issue that, on their own, many actually don’t care much about.
There clearly is some kind of an agenda at work here.
Why else is such propaganda and brainwashing needed? To what means?
The reason why it’s important to know that this mentality exists is because when you read a newspaper article written in self-righteous indignation or when you encounter a fellow Jew condemning charedi avoidance of army service & glorifying female participation ("We don't care about decapitating pilots in burning jets! More grrrl power!"), it’s important to realize the basis for much of this resentment and the feelings of victimhood.
Like, who is really victimized by a yeshivah bachur learning Gemara in yeshivah rather than watching American sitcoms as a "soldier" on an army base?
Some Jewish media sets out to convince people that because charedim do not face an all-out mandatory draft, then non-charedim are being victimized by this fact.
(BTW, there are 3000 charedim serving in the IDF right this moment—mostly in combat units.)
To sum up:
The self-righteousness, resentment, and feelings of victimhood are mostly not based on logic or reason, but simply a result of media incitement & propaganda INTENDED to whip people’s emotions into the above-mentioned states.