We Are All The Daughters of Zlofchad
Activism is the theme of Parshat Pinchas. The first example is Pinchas, acting violently and alone in order to “solve a problem.” For this he is lauded. The daughters of Zlofchad present a picture of activism that is carefully thought out in order to achieve their goals. The Torah recalls them by name. Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah present their case, not only to Moses, but to the leadership of the Jewish people and to God. They are not lauded nor afforded the personal glory of Pinchas. Yet, their efforts were successful long term and the acts of Pinchas solved nothing.
Israel today is in the midst of an issue regarding national service that requires our attention and our activism: who shall serve and who shall be exempt from national service either in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) or National Public Service? Since the founding of the State of Israel, men who study in Yeshivah, women who claim a religious exemption, and Arab citizens of Israel, have generally been exempt from serving in the IDF or serving in a public service capacity. This arrangement, which started in the early 50’s with the exemption of only 400 young men, has grown to encompass tens of thousands who do not serve. Among Jewish Israelis, it is the Charedim, ultra orthodox, who generally do not serve in any capacity. In the spring, the Israeli Supreme Court found that the “Tal Law” on service exemptions was not valid. It gave the Israeli Government a deadline of August 1, 2012 to address this matter.
What is or should be the nature of the State of Israel as a society is at the heart of the question of national service. Why should anyone be exempt from serving in either the armed forces or of performing national service in some way? And, if a person chooses not to serve, then should that individual enjoy all the benefits of the state?
Some in the political arena are acting like Pinchas. They are flexing their political muscle trying to answer the questions by force. Their general answer is that Charedim cannot and should not serve in the army or national service since their lifestyle will be tainted. The corollary is that they believe they are deserving of continued state support since they are providing the Jewish security for Israel through study and lifestyle.
The Arab community is also resistant to service, particularly in the army. Their leadership also asserts, but for different reasons, that they not be forced to serve the security and social service needs of the State of Israel.
It is the “daughters of Zlofchad,” the majority of Israelis, however, who are saying enough is enough. Just as Zlofchad’s daughters argued and prevailed that everyone must be treated equally, the vast majority of Israelis are now saying everyone must serve in some capacity, and that citizenship should carry the same obligation for every citizen.
Israel is a complex society politically and socially. One size often does not fit everyone. In an effort to live categorically, a state must be sensitive to the differences within its own society. The Plesner Committee, which was tasked by the Prime Minister to address these questions, issued its report last week. Although unofficial, since the committee had been officially disbanded, its recommendations addressed the differing needs within the Jewish population. It called for nearly universal service of some kind phased in over a four year period with a goal that 80% of all Jewish citizens would serve either in the IDF or public service. Many believe that the same should apply to the Israeli Arab citizens as well.
The decisions regarding inheritance of land granted to the daughters of Zlofchad were sealed into Jewish law, thus insuring an inheritance, not only for these five women, but for the benefit of women of all generations. The “Tal Law” discussions go to the heart of what it means to be a citizen of Israel, and what it means for Israel to be a Jewish democratic state. We are hopeful that it will be the activism of the “daughters of Zlofchad” that will ensure all Israeli citizens the opportunity and obligation to perform national service.
Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah