Jan 11, 2018

Ben Gurion reflecting on his exemptions to 400 yeshiva students


We have all heard many times the famous story of the meetings of the Chazon Ish and David Ben Gurion and things that were discussed there. I am referring specifically to the agreement that became the basis for the status quo on exemptions or deferrals of army service for the Haredi yeshiva students. The agreement had Ben Gurion agreeing to an exemption for the 400 yeshiva students at the time. That has become the basis for the exemptions and deferrals for what is no w tens of thousands of yeshiva students and is used every time the discussion of what to do arises anew.

The story is the story and what is done is done. I don't think I have ever seen this before, but it turns out that Ben Gurion later in 1963 sent a letter to Levy Eshkol expressing his regret for that agreement. He does not really regret the exemption of the yeshiva students and says it is at least worth investigating if this should be the policy or not - it is how he takes that to explore this as the cause of the growing Haredi extremism and what should happen to extremists.

I just don't like that the source for the letter seems to only be Hiddush and Haaretz, but, as they say, accept truth from wherever it might be found.. so here's the letter (and the Ben Gurion Heritage Foundation has affirmed the letter as true):

Ben-Gurion writes: "Perhaps there is reason to revisit the question of men in yeshivas, if they actually do need to be exempt from their army obligation." The haredi establishment rejected service in small numbers in 1949, allowing a small number from their community to study full-time in yeshiva. The agreement was established based on the assumption that students of high level yeshivot would be exempt from the military as long as they committed themselves to full-time Torah learning and in no other business, even other educational or voluntary pursuits. These yeshiva students embraced the idea that "His Torah is his art". In 1948, there were 400 such students learning in yeshivot.
In his letter to Eshkol, Ben-Gurion writes "The wild behavior of these extremists has crossed every boundary and I believe that I am in part responsible. I released these men from their obligation to serve the army. Although I made these decision when the numbers were small, but they continue to multiply, and in their unruliness, they are a danger to the honor of the country."
 
Ben-Gurion continues: "I recommend that every boy in yeshiva age 18 and over that is caught in these communities breaking the law, throwing stones, disturbing the peace or committing other acts of violence and bullying, draft them immediately into the military and have them serve just as all other young people do--30 months--not in a religious position, but as a regular soldier. There might be reason to investigate the question of all yeshiva students, if they truly need exemptions from military service. But law breakers certainly do not deserve this questionable privilege."
"I released these men from their obligation to serve the army. Although I made these decision when the numbers were small, but they continue to multiply, and in their unruliness, they are a danger to the honor of the country."

(thank you Shoshanna Keats-Jaskoll for bringing it to my attention)



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