Four drawbacks of our all-volunteer military (as compared to the old military draft) are these:
1) despite the fact that upper-middle class and uppers' children could far more easily find ways out than working class and poor boys could (even when the lottery was instituted in autumn, 1969), the draft more or less ensured some measure of economic diversity in the ranks, and this,
2) the increased diversity as contrasted to today's military, did make war (along with other factors such as how the press covered wars) seem less remote, more immediate, especially to the upper middle clssses and this, in turn
3) created a situation where presidents and congress could not behave quite as much as if they had a wholly free hand to do whatever they liked.
4) Finally, this far more class-based military has allowed far more money and far more voters to behave as if military policy and wars are not quite as integral to everyday thinking among upper-middles and uppers as they used to be.
Israel has never had these concerns. Until Wednesday, Israel had quite another conflict as to how its military was constituted.
One logo of the Israeli Defense Forces
When the state was founded in 1948, largely designed to help ensure that ultra-Orthodox families would have a shot at replacing those the S.S. had so systematically destroyed in the Second War, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion offered military service waivers to the Haredim ("those who tremble before God"), full-time Torah-Talmud scholars. At the time it appeared that the 400 exemptions -- and government study stipends -- would not create controversy but, today, and for years now, it has. The exemptions now number 70,000 in a population of roughly eight million.
While Israel was founded as a secular state and as a homeland for Jews of every kind, there have always been religious parties vying for seats in the Knesset, Israel's parliament. These parties have lobbied heavily to maintain the military service exemptions for Haredim, even as many of these families have eight or more children. This has caused a great deal of civil unrest and debate within Israel.
One of the five Torah scrolls, known as The Written Law
The Israeli Supreme Court, however, has now declared the religious exemption unconstitutional. Every non-Orthodox political party welcomed this decision and believe that now the nation will have a better chance at more thoroughgoing social integration between ultra-religious and secular Israelis. Less-than-ultra Orthodox religious and non-religious Israeli Jews also believe the decision will more fairly distribute the burden of defense. Some (hardly all) ultra-Orthodox party officials are willing to negotiate a new paradigm in light of the Court's 6-3 ruling.
Here, in the U.S., given our numbers and diversity, it would be next-to-unthinkable for these questions to arise. And yet, as ardent and as active an advocate of ending the draft in the late '60s and early '70s as I was, I have come to understand that my ideas were not unalloyed. I was also, and unfairly, advocating class-protection, the protection of my own social class of young people. I regret the all-voluntary nature of our service now.
While I'm not religious I am devoted to the heritage. I have read and studied, formally and on my own, many of the ancient texts, the wisdom-books (nowhere, of course, to the extent and in the manner and with the assumptions that Rabbis do). I have studied, too, the Christian texts (canonized and the others and sometimes with specialists). I believe without any doubt that one reason Judaism, my culture, has survived, thrived, and has contributed to scholarship -- law, philosophy, science, economics, medicine, etc., is because there has always been a cohort of us devoting their lives to the study of Torah and Talmud. Those texts (whether or not one believes they're of divine origin) are among the best tools for the training of the mind in how to frame complex legal and ethical and economic issues and come to rational (even competing) conclusions that have ever been written.
The Talmud (medieval rabbinical commentaries on the Torah, originally known as The Oral Law)
I also have to think that in a small nation such as Israel, rational accommodations can be found such that the study will go on and such that the burdens of national/military service can be more widely, more justly shared.
One advantage of e-readers is that one can download, free of charge, the religious texts from many traditions along with quite readable notes/comments by contemporary scholars.