The IDF has been pleading for months with yeshiva heads and settler leaders to stop the hitchhiking, but to no avail. Indeed, these attempts to stop the hitchhiking go back two decades and have continued sporadically ever since, – especially at times of heightened danger, as has been the case over the past few months.
Writing in Ha'aretz, Anschell Pfeffer talks about his own time as a Zionist Orthodox yeshiva students, his friends and fellow classmates who were kidnapped and killed while hitchhiking, and the fact that he and his friends and fellow classmates did not stop hitchhiking even after these tragedies took place – even though the rest of Israel largely did, in part because so few non-Orthodox teens now attend boarding schools, in part because so many families now own cars and have more money, and in the largest part because the parents were no longer willing to risk their children's lives.
But those reasons don't really apply to the Zionist Orthodox (or the haredim).
In the wake of the kidnapping Thursday night of three teenage West Bank yeshiva students who were hitchhiking, earlier today two leading Zionist Orthodox rabbis – Chaim Druckman, the head of Bnei Akiva high schools and Shlomo Aviner of Ateret Cohanim yeshiva in Jerusalem's Old City – finally publicly ruled that hitchhiking should cease.
“We must avoid hitchhiking. We live in a certain reality, it didn’t begin today, but we need to overcome it and do everything not to enter into danger as much as we can,” Druckman said on Army Radio this afternoon, stressing that he wasn't blaming the kidnapped boys or their families.
Aviner ruled that no one should hitchhike unless they know the driver personally or are 100% sure it is safe – an odd judgement to allow a teen to make alone.
The IDF has been pleading for months with yeshiva heads and settler leaders to stop the hitchhiking, but to no avail. Indeed, these attempts to stop the hitchhiking go back two decades and have continued sporadically ever since, – especially at times of heightened danger, as has been the case over the past few months. Even so, it is unclear whether the call by Druckman and Aviner will be heeded by teens and their parents or by other Zionist Orthodox rabbis.
As Pfeffer points out, largely hitchhiking gives teens both a sense of freedom they can't get at school or at home, because some remote settlements are served by infrequent public buses, and more than anything else because the teens (and often their parents, as well) view the entire land of Israel as their own and believe it is their theological and mystical purpose to walk and travel on every last inch of it, danger be damned.
But I think the even more dominant reason is that, much like in the haredi community, large Zionist Orthodox families delegate a significant amount of childcare and other responsibility to very young children. So you'll find 8- and 9-year-olds babysitting 2- and 3-year-olds, and flocks of young teens (and even preteens) traveling alone, even late at night, across parts of the West Bank and Israel.
This is a basic child safety issue caused by large families with overwhelmed (and sometimes distant) parents – an issue that is made worse by the Zionist Orthodox theology noted above and by decades of Zionist Orthodox rabbis' failure refusal to act prudently.
Some people – almost all of them Orthodox or haredi – don't think anyone should be pointing this out now that three boys have been kidnapped.
I think that's because the kidnappings draw attention to how poorly Orthodoxy of all stripes often raises its children, rather than because of some overriding concern for hurting the parents of these boys – parents who are already suffering immensely.
There simply is no excuse for how Orthodoxy raises its children, and there's no better time than now for that message to be driven home – not to hurt Orthodox and haredi parents but to protect and hopefully save the lives of other children.