The two leading bodies of the ultra-Orthodox community published a declaration on Tuesday morning in haredi
daily newspapers strongly protesting any attempts to draft yeshiva students into
The councils of Torah sages of both the non-hassidic
Degel Hatorah movement and the hassidic Agudat Yisrael movement issued a joint
statement after convening separately Monday night, saying that the government
had no right to remove anyone learning Torah from the study hall.
place of Torah students is in the tents of Torah, and no one had the right to
uproot them or harm the essence of the right to our existence in the Holy Land,
and for sure there is no right to draft them and force them into the army, where
the very fact of them being there is a spiritual danger to their way of life and
their faith,” read the statement.
The councils also expressly rejected
the notion of criminal or economic penalties for yeshiva students refusing to
enlist, referring to proposals put forward in legislation currently in the
Knesset to increase haredi enlistment.
The councils’ message also
addressed yeshiva students directly and implored them to “stand with might,
strength and power at your guard posts, and do not surrender one but to those
who want to separate you from the source of life.”
The statement of the
two councils comes as the Knesset Special Committee reviewing the government
bill for drafting haredim into national service is close to completing its
The council of Degel Hatorah convened in Bnei Brak, along with more
than 100 yeshiva deans from around the country, while Agudat Yisrael’s council
gathered in Jerusalem.
Agudat Yisrael’s council, comprising 15 grand
rabbis of the largest hassidic communities, is the foremost decision-making body
of the hassidic community.
Likewise, its Degel Hatorah counterpart
represents the non-hassidic haredi population and is also comprised of 15 senior
Speaking in Bnei Brak, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the
acknowledged leader of the non-hassidic haredi world, spoke out harshly against
efforts to draft yeshiva students.
“There are today people who want to
destroy the Jewish People, to destroy the Torah,” he said. “For this we need to
plead [to God] that such things will not happen since our people only exists
through the Torah,” he added in a short speech to the gathered yeshiva
No firm decisions were made at either council meeting, Degel
Hatorah meeting between Shteinman and the yeshiva deans, and Agudah’s council
likewise did not make any concrete determinations.
Both bodies are
waiting to see the final outcome of the government bill on haredi enlistment
before formally responding and instructing the community and especially men of
military age how to act.
An informal spokesman for the Degel council
emphasized that the rabbinic leadership was opposed to any form of sanctions,
economic or criminal, against yeshiva students.
He also insisted that the
rabbis believe that the government is trying to wage war against their community
and that the haredi world is simply reacting to the government but does not seek
any conflict with it.
He added that if the government “will act
coercively” to try and draft haredi students then the community would march en
masse against such a decision “dwarfing” recent protests conducted by the even
more extreme sectors of the haredi community.
The government bill is
still in the Knesset Special Committee but the major issues are expected to be
decided on shortly, after which it will be brought back to the Knesset plenum
for its second and third readings.
The recent arrests of two yeshiva
students who refused to present themselves to IDF enlistment offices when called
to do so has further complicated the matter for the mainstream haredi
The two haredi men, aged 18 and 19, refused two weeks ago to
report to the IDF because they adhere to the rulings of hardline haredi leader
Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach who, unlike Shteinman, had instructed yeshiva students not
to even present themselves at enlistment offices.
The first man to be
detained, Moshe Erashvilli was imprisoned for 14 days in a military jail but was
released on Friday. The second man, Yechiel Kennig, is still detained but is
expected to be released next week.
The publicity these arrests generated
in the ultra-Orthodox community, increased by several high-profile protests by
haredi extremists, has ramped up the pressure on Shteinman and the mainstream
haredi leadership to more harshly oppose any progress on the issue.
Rabbi of the Viznitz Hassidim Yisroel Hager, one of the most influential members
of Agudah’s Council of Torah Sages, reportedly said recently that he was
personally in favor of yeshiva students not presenting themselves when called to
This position has not been supported by mainstream haredi leaders
One of the main issues under debate within the government
regarding the legislation on haredi enlistment is by what means to enforce
haredi enlistment in national service programs.
During the course of the
Knesset committee’s deliberations on the bill, haredi MKs have insisted that
allowing imprisonment for yeshiva students who refuse to enlist in military or
national service would be unacceptable in any format.
The MKs said that
if such a stipulation were included in the new law, the ultra-Orthodox
leadership, political and rabbinic, would see it as an ideological attack on the
Torah, and would oppose the implementation of the new statute by all possible
means at their disposal.
However, the same MKs have noted that if less
severe penalties are imposed, such as financial penalties, then the opposition
from the haredi leadership will be less severe.
According to MK Moshe
Gafni, who has attended many of the committee hearings, the haredim will never
support such measures, and believe that they constitute an attack on the “Torah
world,” but would nevertheless not fight against the implementation of such a
bill as they would if criminal sanctions are stipulated.