The haredi daily newspaper Yated Ne’eman reported on Monday that Rabbi Aharon
Leib Shteinman, the most senior rabbi in the haredi world, has called on yeshiva
students not to enlist in the civilian service program, the framework designed
as an alternative to military service for haredi men.
According to an
article published in the newspaper that serves as mouthpiece for the Degel
Hatorah political party, Shteinman’s comments were made in response to the
government decision on Sunday to allow an extra 1,300 yeshiva students to enlist
in the civilian service.
The article reported that “with the publication
of the government decision yesterday, our rabbi and leader, the great Rabbi
Aharon Leib Shteinman, gave an instruction to warn the masses against this
severe and dangerous phenomenon, whose only purpose is to undermine the
foundations of our existence and is against the very essence and purpose of a
yeshiva student which is to dedicate his life to Torah study.”
article continued, saying that Shteinman explained that the haredi world had to
“defend its existence” and take precautions “against all the new temptations of
the leaders of the regime which damage the foundations of Judaism, whose only
purpose is to create a dangerous erosion of students away from the sanctuary of
Torah, and so people must be warned not to be enticed whatsoever to go to these
Shteinman’s words were reported in a news article on page
three of the newspaper and not published under his name and signature in a
public decree on the front page, the usual format in which his proclamations are
According to one haredi commentator, the irregular placement
of the announcement could indicate that Shteinman is simply trying not to lose
face and be out-maneuvered by more radical rabbinic leaders who have taken a
harsher line than he on national service.
At the beginning of the last
decade, Shteinman gave tacit support to the establishment of the Nahal Haredi
combat battalion for ultra-Orthodox soldiers and the terms of the Tal Law, both
of which were bitterly opposed by most of the haredi rabbinic leadership at the
In response to the report, the Hiddush religious-freedom lobbying
group denounced Shteinman’s words and said that since the rabbi inherited the
leadership of the haredi world he had “continued to lead the rejectionist haredi
front to any compromise or form of integration like his predecessors rabbis
Shach and Elyashiv.
“Shteinman has again proved that there is no partner
for dialogue in the haredi leadership,” said Hiddush director, attorney and
Reform Rabbi Uri Regev.
“It must be hoped that new and more fitting
leaders will emerge from the haredi public, who will know how to lead the
community to integrate into the economic life of the country and to share the
burden of national service,” he added.
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