Hundreds of haredi men and youths associated with the Jerusalem Faction, a hardline grouping of the non-hassidic haredi community, staged violent demonstrations on Sunday evening in several locations across the country.
Protests at the arrest of a haredi yeshiva student who refused to present himself at IDF enlistment offices took place in Jerusalem, as well as on major traffic arteries including road junctions close to Bnei Brak, Modi’in Illit, Beit Shemesh, Ashdod, and several other locations.
The police arrested at least four haredi protesters for trying to block major roads and thoroughfares.
The yeshiva student in question, Eliyahu Cohen, attends the Orhot David yeshiva in Jerusalem, which is associated with the Jerusalem Faction, a breakaway group from the mainstream non-hassidic haredi Degel Hatorah political movement.
In accordance with the instructions of the movement and its spiritual leader Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, 83, Cohen has repeatedly refused to present himself at IDF enlistment offices after receiving conscription orders and was originally arrested in March 2014 for failing to report, which prompted mass demonstrations around the country.
Cohen is being held in the IDF military’s Prison Six facility near Atlit and has reportedly begun a hunger strike.
According to the Committee to Save the Torah World, a body associated with the Jerusalem Faction, Cohen received another enlistment order last month, and upon refusing to do so was imprisoned for 20 days. He was subsequently released and again asked to report to the recruitment office to enlist – an order he refused, which lead to his incarceration.
The IDF Spokesperson's Unit confirmed this sequence of events but said that Cohen was not on hunger strike.
The Jerusalem Faction, headed by Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, 83, broke away from Degel Hatorah less than two years ago after Auerbach lost a power struggle with Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the spiritual leader of the Degel movement, and set up the Bnei Torah political party.
Auerbach, who is more isolationist and hardline than Shteinman, instructed yeshiva students associated with the movement not to present themselves to IDF enlistment offices when called to do so, unlike the Degel movement which instructs yeshiva students to report to IDF offices in order to complete preliminary processing.
The haredi daily newspaper Hapeles, the mouthpiece of Bnei Torah, reported on Sunday that Auerbach had called for protests against Cohen’s arrest.
“According to the instructions of the revered Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, masses of people will go out to demonstrations and protest rallies until the terrible decree is canceled,” an article in the paper reported.
The terms of the law for haredi conscription passed in March mean that enlistment to the IDF for any haredi man who was 18 and over on the day the law was passed is voluntary, while anyone under this age is obligated to serve but may delay his service for a maximum of three years, meaning that men in this category will only be required to enlist starting June 2017.