Hardline haredi elements protested on Sunday morning against the arrest of yeshiva students who fail to present themselves when called up for army service, holding a small rally outside the Jerusalem draft office.
Approximately 100 haredi men turned out for the protest, most of whom were from the radical, anti-Zionist Eda Haredit communal association. There was a small contingent of yeshiva students and some elderly Eda Haredit rabbis, but most of the protesters were middle aged.
Several protests have been staged in recent weeks due to the arrest of a number of young haredi men who have not reported to IDF enlistment offices when called to do so.
They are following the instructions of hardline haredi leader Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, 83, who has instructed any yeshiva students studying in yeshivas allied with his faction not to cooperate with the IDF.
The small numbers of protesters at Sunday’s protest was apparently due to Auerbach’s call for yeshiva students not to protest during the month of Elul, due to its proximity to the High Holy Days and the importance of Torah study in this period.
The protest was billed as the “demonstration of the 70 elders” and flyers printed for it said the “regime of destruction” wanted to test the response of haredi Jewry to the arrest of yeshiva students.
The flyers said the rally was therefore designed “to protest against the evil conspiracy and to declare that we will never surrender, not to enticements and not to torture.”
The father of Yinon Avitan, 18, a yeshiva student who was arrested last week for failing to report for military service, gave his full support to his son during a conversation with The Jerusalem Post.
“His heart burns for God and for Torah study. He is doing this happily and with self-sacrifice,” Aharon Avitan said.
“He is fighting for the values he believes in and the importance of Torah study,” he continued.
“We see [the government’s] intentions. They want to make us into a type of European country without any semblance of Judaism or Jewish character. We need to do everything against this to trend and we will listen exactly to the words of our rabbis, as we are commanded by the Torah in this regard.”
Although Auerbach’s Jerusalem Faction is a minority grouping in the haredi community, it is estimated that it enjoys the support of 15 percent of the non-hassidic haredi public, meaning there could be several hundred yeshiva students currently refusing to report for service.
Ironically, Yinon Avitan would actually be entitled to what amounts to a total exemption from military service if he reported to an IDF enlistment office. Under the terms of the new legislation for haredi conscription passed in March this year, anyone who was over the age of 18 on the day the law was passed, as was Avitan, is entitled to defer his service by one year, every year, until the age of exemption at 26.
However, Auerbach’s Jerusalem Faction is calling for zero cooperation with the government.
Speaking to the Post at Sunday morning’s rally, one of the protesters, who would only speak on condition of anonymity, said that the IDF could send his deferment papers to him by mail, but it wants yeshiva students to go to the enlistment offices in order to brainwash them into joining the army.
Another student, aged 25 and studying at a yeshiva loyal to Auerbach, said that the haredi world is at war with the state and needs to fight for its values.
He also questioned why the mainstream haredi leadership, headed by Rabbi Ahaon Leib Shteinman, 100, has continued to allow its yeshiva students to begin the preliminary enlistment process when called to do so.
“I don’t know why they can’t see we’re at war,” the student said.