There is an article up on YNET about Charedi yeshiva students who dodge the draft by feigning minor insanity.
I told them that I tried to commit suicide when I was younger, but it wasn’t enough. When the mental health officer said he wouldn’t release me, I told him I hated Arabs – so he lowered my medical profile to 21. Later on, a committee approved it, and I was out.”
As the article points out, not everyone who claims a draft exemption based on mental reasons are frauds. There are people who are really not mentally suitable for army service. And the mental clause for draft exemption isn’t the most common form of draft exemption. That honor falls to the תורתו אמנותו, the Torah is his occupation, exemption, which depending on the extent of its use, may actually be a very valid exemption, depending on one’s viewpoint.
I do not want to enter here into the discussion of whether and in what measure that exemption is commendable, nor whether serving in the Israeli military is a mitzvah or something best avoided. That’s been extensively discussed elsewhere.
But I am very troubled by the fact that people would lie in order to avoid the draft. The Torah commands that we stay away from lying (Shemot 23:7, Keep thee far from a false matter), prohibits lying (Vayiqra 19:11, Ye shall not … lie one to another), and particularly prohibits misrepresenting facts in matters that may bring about monetary loss to another party (Vayiqra 25:17, And ye shall not wrong one another).
[UPDATE 20101221 at 20:26: The Oral Law provides the context in which the full biblical force of the above three prohibitions applies. The last one prohibits hurting others by agency of our speech, all the more so our actions; this prohibition may apply here, as a potential draftee drives the officers and medical personnel nuts, and even recruits them to join in his deception. The middle one applies in the context of misappropriating material possessions through fraud. However, the first one applies in all situations. Furthermore, fooling others falls under the general prohibition of geneivat da’at, “stealing the mind,” i.e. fooling others in material matters, which may apply here, too, as society has rightly legislated a fair draft.
Note how the law does grant an exemption to those who study Torah all day; those who fraudulently and crookedly seek this psychiatric exemption are those who are probably no longer learning Torah full time. To fool society into granting them a draft exemption surely sounds like geneivat da’at to me.]
Even accepting the widespread Chareidi position that in the present secular Israel, it would be a good thing to avoid the draft, how do they justify lying for this? And causing harm to the army?
By the way, while this phenomenon of lying to avoid a draft is not very widespread, and is really a holdover from the days of the Czarist draft, which was antisemitically motivated, nonetheless, the phenomenon has existed outside of Israel, too, even in recent decades. Growing up in Belgium, a democratic country respectful of minorities, which still had a draft then, I do recall every once in a while hearing of someone who claimed an exemption based on mental insanity. But the Torah prohibits lying or wronging someone else, regardless of whom we would lie to or wrong, be they Jew or gentile. What justification permitted transgressing three biblical prohibitions?