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The Importance of Nahal Haredi, Now More Than Ever

Haredi Jewish men look at the scene of an explosion at a bus stop in Jerusalem, Israel, on Nov. 23, 2022. Photo: Reuters/Ammar Awad

Last month, amidst all the to-ing and fro-ing across Israel, our solidarity mission from Los Angeles spent a couple of hours at an important event on Rechov Uruguay, a quiet leafy street in the Kiryat HaYovel neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Rechov Uruguay is just one of the many streets in Kiryat HaYovel named for countries that voted at the U.N. in November 1947 in favor of partitioning Palestine – a landmark vote that paved the way for the creation of Israel six months later.

But we were not on Rechov Uruguay to commemorate an event from history. Rather, we were there to celebrate the formal opening of an apartment for soldiers of the Netzach Yehuda division of the IDF, better known as Nahal Haredi.

This past Yom Kippur, just a couple of weeks before the tragic events of October 7th, our synagogue in Beverly Hills held an appeal to raise money to pay for this apartment, and now we were there to dedicate it. The event was attended by a range of dignitaries, but truthfully, they were eclipsed by another aspect of the ceremony that took center stage.

On the morning of October 7th, Haredi soldier Sergeant Binyamin Lev heard about the Hamas terrorist incursion into Southern Israel, and immediately rushed to the town of Sderot, together with his colleagues, to eliminate the threat against Israelis. Hours later he was dead, felled by terrorist bullets.

Sergeant Lev was 23 years old. The apartment on Rechov Uruguay was being dedicated in his memory, with the participation of his commanding officers and his family. It was an event that will remain with me for as long as I live.

Sergeant Lev’s story is incredibly inspiring. He was born into a Chabad family in Paris, one of 8 children. A couple of years ago, out of the blue, he decided to move to Israel and join the Israeli army as a lone soldier, much like our own son Meir, who did the same a year earlier.

Meir told us that he helped Binyamin join the same unit was in – Haredim Tzanchanim, or “Chetz”, a unique paratrooper unit entirely made up of boys from Haredi families.

Binyamin excelled in his military tasks, but he also clung tenaciously to strict Jewish observance, totally devoted to his traditions and family customs. At the dedication event, Binyamin’s grandfather, a gentle-looking, white-bearded Chabad hasid, took out a guitar and sang Binyamin’s favorite song. The words of the song were a verse from scripture.

We all wept as we sang along with him and clapped our hands to the beat. Meir was particularly moved; he attended Binyamin’s funeral in October, and now he was at this dedication event. It brought it home for him, and for us – the real price our people paid on October 7th was on vivid display, personalized and stark.

But truthfully, neither Binyamin nor Meir are typical of the Nahal Haredi recruits. Most Haredim who join the strictly Orthodox units of the IDF come from families that shun them for the choice they’ve made, or at best tolerate them while making clear that active military duty is not okay. Some families tell their soldier sons never to appear in their Haredi neighborhoods in uniform, in case this triggers hostility and causes the family problems.

Incredibly, there are even Haredi families with sons in the army have been forced out of their communities for having broken ranks with their Haredi compatriots. This is why Nahal Haredi needs these apartments, so that their soldiers have got somewhere to live when they are off duty.

This negative attitude by Haredim all stems from a pivotal decision in 1948 by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, to exempt yeshiva students from conscription. This policy, known as the ‘Torato Umanuto’ (“His Torah is His Profession”) exemption, was initially intended to apply to a small number of students to allow for the continuation of Jewish religious scholarship that was devastated by the Holocaust.

At the time, the exemption was relevant to an estimated 400 students, but the numbers have grown significantly. In recent years, reports indicate that the number of exemptions granted annually to yeshiva students has reached into many tens of thousands – the result of an exponential growth of the Haredi sector in Israel.

In 1963, Ben Gurion expressed regret for the blanket exemption in a letter to Levi Eshkol, but he was no longer in power and the exemption numbers continued to grow, long after post-Holocaust concerns had been mitigated by the incredible growth in quantity and quality of yeshiva scholarship. As a result, the ‘Torato Umanuto’ exemption has become a source of endless contention and discord in Israeli society.

Until October 7th, societal norms were such that tensions between Haredim and the rest of Israel regarding the broad refusal by Haredim to take part in defending Israel from military and terrorist threats by participating in national service had evolved into the familiar discourse of a special interest group refusing to consider any kind of alternative narrative.

Nahal Haredi – formed in 1999 to accommodate the needs of Haredi soldiers not suited to yeshiva study – simply got caught in the crosshairs of this epic ideological battle. For all intents and purposes, the concept of Nahal Haredi died on the vine, as it lacked the kind of meaningful support from Haredi rabbinic and political leadership that would have ensured broad success. Those Haredi boys who did enlist – unless they came from abroad as lone soldiers – found themselves shunned and marginalized, as did their families.

But the shock of October 7th and the war that has been raging ever since has shifted the paradigm considerably. Last week, Israel’s Interior Minister, Moshe Arbel of the Haredi Sephardic Shas party, reached out to Yossi Levy, CEO of Netzach Yehuda.

In his letter, later published by Yediot Ahronot, Arbel encouraged the integration of Haredim into meaningful, long-term military service. He particularly expressed his pleasure at the significant increase in interest among Haredi youth to enlist for combat service in the upcoming draft.

Arbel also told Levy how happy he is about the more than 800 new Haredi soldiers who have joined the IDF since October 7th. And in an interview, Arbel argued that it is totally indefensible for Haredim to claim exemption from military service simply because they are Haredim. Like all other Israeli citizens, they should serve, he told the interviewer, except for those who are genuinely engaged in full-time Torah study.

This shift is without question a welcome change, but it has yet to translate into full-throated support for Nahal Haredi by the recognized rabbinic hierarchy within the Haredi world. That support must come, as Israel and the Jewish people face the most challenging threats to their existence in recent history, and the IDF is poised to play a key role, in which the Haredi community have a stake that is no less significant than every other element of Israel’s Jewish population. We are all in this together, and no element of the Jewish world can afford to opt out of the task that lies ahead.

Currently, the Jewish world is reading the biblical portions that deal with the construction of the Tabernacle in the Sinai wilderness. Every Jew was expected to support the construction of this holy sanctuary.

The Midrash informs us that the princes of each tribe decided to wait until the end of the campaign to make their contribution, so that they could then fill in the gaps. But as it turned out, they messed up – the people were so enthused by the idea of supporting the project, that when it came to the turn of the princes, there was nothing left for them to give, an omission that forever remained a blot on their record.

Members of the Haredi community – of which I consider myself a product and proud member – have long considered themselves the princes of Jewish life. Sadly, this has meant that they have not been willing to contribute to the national effort to defend Israel, instead expecting everyone else to play their part while they remained on the sidelines.

That is not the right approach. Just like the tribes of Reuven and Gad, and half of Menashe, Haredim – who by their way of life represent the importance of preserving Jewish identity and tradition – should be first in line to defend Israel and the Jewish people on the battlefield.

The Torah instructs us (Lev. 19:16): “do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” This law demands of every Jew that if someone is in danger, to save them and do anything to ensure their survival.

The Jewish people is in physical and existential danger from terrorists who are out to murder and destroy us. We need the Haredi soldiers now more than ever, to lead the charge against those who mean to kill and destroy us, and to uproot us from the land of our heritage and destiny.

And if the Haredi community comes on board and commits itself to defending our holy homeland, I have no doubt it will be the inspiration that will inevitably lead to the coming of the Messiah and the rebuilding of our Beit Hamikdash.

The author is a rabbi in Beverly Hills, California.

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‘Israel Is Not Jewish People,’ New York Times ‘Daily’ Guest Really Wants You to Know

Anti-Israel protesters outside Columbia University in Manhattan, New York City, April 22, 2024. Photo: USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connect

When producers from the New York Times podcast “The Daily” posted on social media looking for “Jewish students who represent a range of feelings and experiences, from being enthusiastically pro Palestinian to enthusiastically pro Israel, and everything in between,” I replied, “This is a trap! They’ll use the ‘pro-Palestinian’ (the polite term they use for the ones who want to wipe Israel off the map) ones to make it sound like the Jewish community is divided and give listeners the illusion that the anti-Israel protests aren’t antisemitic.”

Sure enough, the Times podcast episode that finally aired, headlined, “The Campus Protesters Explain Themselves,” included three students.

Mustafa Yowell, of Irving, Texas, said his mother was from “Nablus, Palestine” and described himself as a Palestinian Arab. He’s a student at the University of Texas, Austin who complained to the Times that “two IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers had infiltrated the campus.” By “IDF soldiers” he meant Israeli students at the university who had, like many Israelis, served in the army before college.

The second student interviewed, Elisha Baker, a student at Columbia University, described himself as a proud Zionist and a graduate of Jewish day school.

And the third student, Jasmine Jolly, a student at Cal Poly Humboldt, described herself as the daughter of a Catholic father and “of Ashkenazi descent on my mom’s side.” Jolly showed up at protests with a sign that said “in honor of my Jewish ancestors, I stand with Palestine.” Jolly also chanted “there is only one solution, intifada revolution.”

“There’s nothing that has come across to me as antisemitic if you are able to pause and remember that Israel is not Jewish people and Zionism is not Jewish people,” Jolly explained to the Times audience.

Jolly read an email from her Jewish grandfather claiming, “Israel is an increasingly apartheid state.”

This is just such a misleading view of reality on campus and in American Jewish life. Even polls like Pew that use an expansive definition of who is Jewish find overwhelming Jewish support for Israel and negligible support for Hamas, including among younger Jews 18 to 34.

In reality, a lot of the anti-Israel protesters aren’t even Palestinians; they are European or Asian students or white or black Americans who either have been brainwashed by their professors or who have underlying, pre-existing antisemitic attitudes. Few of them have been to the Middle East and many of them are ignorant about basic facts about it — remember the Wall Street Journal piece, “From Which River to Which Sea?

“The Daily” episode made it crisply concrete, with the Times representing Jews as being split 50-50, with one normative Jew and one Jew chanting “there is only one solution, intifada revolution.” That’s ridiculous, yet a similar approach contaminates other Times coverage of the Jewish community, misleadlingly portraying American Jewry as deeply divided rather than unified around the goals of getting the hostages back, eliminating the threat of Hamas, and making American college campuses safe for Jewish students.

The Times was at this game well before Oct. 7, 2023, proclaiming “the unraveling of American Zionism” and trotting out old chestnuts such as the Reform movement’s Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 and the New York Times‘ favorite Jew, Peter Beinart.

I find myself rolling my eyes at such depictions, but there is clearly some audience for them among the Times readership and top editorial ranks. The Times executive editor, Joe Kahn, told Semafor’s Ben Smith in a May interview, “I’m not an active Jew.” Maybe the New York Times can sell sweatshirts: “Inactive Jew.” Who, exactly, is supposed to find that distinction between “active” and “inactive” Jews reassuring? Maybe they can put it on top of the front page in place of “All the News That’s Fit to Print”: “Edited by someone who wants the public to know he’s not an active Jew.”

Of all the moments to choose to distance oneself publicly from the Jewish people, this is sure quite one to choose.

This “Daily” episode seems calculated to appeal to the inactive Jews, and to others who want justification to believe it’s not antisemitic to set up on Passover and falsely accuse Israel of genocide. It’s nice for the Times to include a Zionist voice on the program, but he wound up sandwiched in between a Palestinian and an “only one solution, intifada revolution” person. It’s fairly typical for the New York Times these days, but it isn’t pretty.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here. He also writes at

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Palestinian Islamic Jihad Releases Second Video of Israeli Hostage Sasha Troufanov

Israeli hostage Alexander (Sasha) Trufanov as seen in an undated propaganda video released by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group on May 30, 2024. Photo: Screenshot

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group on Thursday released a second propaganda video this week featuring Israeli hostage Alexander (Sasha) Trufanov, 28, who was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists during Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel.

In the video, Trufanov says he is doing well and criticizes Israel’s prime minister and government in remarks that were likely scripted by his captors.

There was no information about when the video was filmed. However, Trufanov refers to Israel’s decision on May 5 to order the local offices of Qatar’s Al Jazeera satellite news network to close, indicating he may have been filmed in the last few weeks.

The latest video came just two days after Islamic Jihad, an Iran-backed Palestinian terrorist group in Gaza, released its first video featuring Trufanov.

The 30-second undated video shows Trufanov, an Amazon employee, identifying himself and saying that he will soon discuss what has happened to him and other hostages in Gaza.

Similar videos have been released by terrorists groups in Gaza. Israel has lambasted them as psychological warfare meant to torture the Israeli public, especially the families of the hostages being held in Gaza.

Trufanov’s mother said after the first video was released that she was happy to see her son after all this time, but it was “heartbreaking” that he had been a hostage for so long.

“Seeing my Sasha on my TV was very cheering, but it also breaks my heart that he’s still been in captivity for so long,” she said in a video released by the family. “I ask everyone, all the decision-makers: Please do everything, absolutely everything, to bring my son and all the hostages home now.”

Hamas-led Palestinian terrorists abducted over 250 people during their Oct. 7 onslaught. Sasha was kidnapped alongside his mother, grandmother, and girlfriend. All three women were released as part of a temporary ceasefire agreement negotiated in November. His father, Vitaly Trufanov, was one of the 1,200 people killed during the Hamas massacre.

“The proof of life from Alexsander (Sasha) Trufanov is additional evidence that the Israeli government must give a significant mandate to the negotiating team,” the Hostages Families Forum, which represents the families of the hostages, said in a statement.

More than 120 hostages remain in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas. Islamic Jihad is a separate but allied terrorist organization in the Palestinian enclave. Both are backed by Iran, which provides them with money, weapons, and training.

Negotiations brokered by Qatar, Egypt, and the US to reach a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas in Gaza have been stalled for weeks.

Trufanov was an engineer at the Israeli microelectronics company Annapurna Labs, which Amazon owns.

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Israel’s Kafkaesque Ordeal at the ICC

Proceedings at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, February 16, 2021. Photo: ICC-CPI/Handout via Reuters.

Israel is facing unprecedented and bizarre proceedings at the International Criminal Court (ICC), crescendoing with a request by Prosecutor Karim Khan for arrest warrants against its sitting Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant.

These events are the result of a multi-faceted and long-developing campaign by anti-Israel activists that has largely advanced under the radar.

Firstly, Israel is not a member of the Court and does not recognize ICC jurisdiction over its actions. In the late 1990s, Israel was initially a strong backer of the ICC, but during the drafting of the Court’s governing Rome Statute, the Arab League blocked efforts to include terrorism as an international crime and helped invent a new crime that would specifically target Israeli activity across the 1949 armistice lines. For these reasons, Israel refused to ratify the Rome Statute and join the Court.

In any other situation, this would be the end of the matter. However, beginning in 2009, the Palestinian Authority (PA), acting in collaboration with UN Rapporteurs and European-funded NGOs linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group, attempted to join the Court.

Rather than dismiss the PA’s effort immediately because the PA is not a state — and ICC membership is only available to states — the ICC Prosecutor at the time, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, launched a PR campaign to ostensibly “debate” the issue. Three years later, he rejected the PA’s application, but instead provided a blueprint facilitating the Palestinians’ ability to circumvent the clear standards of the Rome Statute.

In November 2012, the Palestinians succeeded in upgrading their status at the UN to “non-member observer state.” Merely on the basis of this semantic, rather than substantive change, ICC officials allowed the Palestinians to game the system and join the Court.

Despite these machinations and exploitation of the Court, the next Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, filed a request with the Court’s Pre-Trial chamber (PTC) in December 2019 seeking authorization to open an investigation into crimes allegedly committed on the territory of the “State of Palestine,” despite the fact that this state does not exist and has no defined territory. Moreover, she argued that the Court could proceed against Israelis, regardless of whether it was a member of the Court.

This action, endorsed by the PTC in February 2021 in a controversial 2-1 opinion, essentially eviscerated the Oslo Accords, the agreement mutually agreed to between Israel and the PLO in the mid-1990s, which lays out governance of the West Bank and Gaza.

A key provision of the Accords is that the PA would not have any authority to exercise or delegate any criminal jurisdiction over Israelis to the Court. The Prosecutor and the Court completely ignored this issue.

In yet another unbelievable move, the Court next also allowed the Palestinians to retroactively assign temporal jurisdiction going back to June 13, 2014, precisely the day after the kidnapping and subsequent murder of three Israeli teenagers, which triggered the war that summer. This meant that Hamas’ brutal murder and kidnapping of Jews, a preview of what Israel would experience on a larger scale on October 7, would get a free pass from the Court.

Fast-forward to Khan’s move to file for arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant. Here, too, the Prosecutor’s office engaged in highly questionable conduct. Khan could have already issued indictments against Hamas leaders on October 7 itself, when their flagrant crimes were broadcast around the world. Instead, he chose to wait until after manufactured allegations of “starvation” could be crafted against Israeli officials. He also inexplicably ignored thousands of other war crimes, including each rocket attack on Israel, committed by Palestinians since 2014.

In yet another outrageous move, at the time of the announcement, Khan’s team had been scheduled to attend meetings in Israel. However, the planned trip appears to have been a bad faith ruse. Instead of the team boarding the plane, Khan went on CNN to tell Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview about the arrest warrant requests. It doesn’t take an expert in communications to know that such a step would generate a storm of PR almost solely focused on Israel, meaning attention on the Hamas atrocities and real crimes committed on October 7 would be virtually ignored.

One also wonders if any mind was paid to what this action might mean for any hope of a ceasefire to secure the release of the hostages.

Egregiously, Khan’s actions offended another cornerstone of the Rome Statute, that of complementarity. The ICC is only supposed to act as a court of last resort in situations where a judicial system is unable or unwilling to investigate international crimes. As he himself acknowledged on a visit to Israel in early December, Israel has robust investigatory mechanisms and judiciary — one that has never shied away from intervening in military matters, nor in going after the most senior officials, including prime ministers.

Instead of giving the Israeli system a reasonable time to proceed, however, the Prosecutor disregarded the complementarity requirement and decided to bulldoze forward. In contrast, although Khan has had for years the jurisdiction to act against President Maduro in Venezuela, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and military junta in Myanmar — authoritarian governments responsible for horrific atrocities — no cases have been filed.

Multiple procedural irregularities and political maneuverings of the Office of Prosecutor have been well-documented, and there are several other disturbing aspects to the “Situation in Palestine” not mentioned here. For years, the ICC has been under intense criticism for its lack of accomplishments in its more than 20 years of operation. Khan was brought in to serve as a sober and responsible actor to right the ship. The actions of his office the past few months now call this assessment into question.

In an interview published with the Times of London a few days after his inexplicable actions, Khan stated, “if we don’t hold on to the law, we have nothing to cling onto.” The Prosecutor would be wise to reflect on his Office’s history and follow his own advice.

Anne Herzberg is the Legal Advisor of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research organization.

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