MembersSpiritual Holocaust

Ultra-Orthodox Jews are divided: Should one serve in the army, or not?

By Aviel Schneider |
Israeli Jews.
Photo: Photo: Yonatan Sindel / Flash90

Many fear backsliding in their faith if they, for instance, come into what they believe to be inappropriate contact with women. Others, like most Israelis, simply want to defend their nation.

Meanwhile, the rabbis sense a threat to the future of orthodoxy. For them, compulsory military service amounts to a “spiritual holocaust,” a point repeatedly driven home by Orthodox Jewish websites and spokesmen.

Of course, they use the same phrase to describe the assimilation of American Jews. Israel’s minister of agriculture, Uri Ariel, who is a religious Jew, recently said regarding the threat of assimilation facing the Jewish Diaspora: “An assimilated Jew has left his people, thus weakening and betraying the whole.” Jewish identity, in the eyes of the rabbis, is primarily spiritual, not physical. As such, abandoning one’s Judaism, especially in favor of another religion like Christianity, amounts to spiritual death, a fate far worse than physical death. It is for this reason that they compare military conscription to proselytization. Anything that...

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