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Haredim: Agudat Yisrael, Degel Hatorah set to meet
By JEREMY SHARON
07/02/2013
Haredi leadership will meet in light of the threat to the blanket exemption from military service enjoyed by full-time yeshiva students.
 
A historic meeting of both Councils of Torah Sages of the two mainstream haredi movements, Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael, will take place Thursday in Bnei Brak.

The two councils, which split in 1988, are nominally the spiritual executive branches of these movements, and are theoretically supposed to confer on major issues confronting the haredi community.

The joint meeting has been called as a matter of emergency, in light of the threat to the blanket exemption from military service enjoyed by full-time yeshiva students.

Both councils will, without a doubt, express an uncompromising position on the matter, and will refuse to agree to any proposal that enforces enlistment of those studying in yeshiva.

The council of Agudat Yisrael, the movement representing hassidic Jewry in Israel, has not convened for the past 16 years, because of a lack of consensus on certain issues among the many hassidic groups as well as the absence of any especially pressing concern.

Since the last time Agudat Yisrael’s council was convened, almost all of the members – mostly the grand rabbis of the different hassidic dynasties – have died, apart from the rebbes of the Gur and Erlau Hassidim.

Degel Hatorah, the movement representing non-hassidic haredim in Israel, has also not met regularly, and added new members for the first time in many years last August to replace several members who had passed away in recent months.

Agudat Yisrael’s council will formally add at least nine new members on Thursday, and will be comprised in total of 15 members, including the grand rabbis of the hassidic dynasties of Gur, Belz, Vizhnitz, Erlau, Sanz, Boyan, Slonim, Seret-Vizhnitz, Sadigura, Alexander and Modzitz.

Agudat Yisrael’s council will convene at approximately 5 p.m. in Bnei Brak, and will then be joined an hour later by the council of Degel Hatorah, which includes the acknowledged leader of the non-hassidic Ashkenazi haredi world, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman.

A joint meeting of both councils has rarely occurred since Degel Hatorah split off from Agudat Yisrael, indicating the concern which has gripped the leadership of the haredi world regarding proposals to draft yeshiva students into national service.

The previous arrangement covered by the terms of the “Tal Law” allowed full-time yeshiva students to indefinitely defer their military service, but the law was struck down by the High Court of Justice last February and finally expired in August.

The haredi spiritual and political leadership is vehemently opposed to any solution which forces yeshiva students to leave the study hall and enlist.

Although some of the leading rabbis accept that permanent, full-time yeshiva study is not suitable for everyone, and that those who do not wish to do so may perform some form of national service and enter the workforce, they will not agree to a blanket draft of yeshiva students.

Haredi politicians frequently say that anyone who is not fulfilling his legally mandated study hours should enlist. Out of the approximately 45,000 full-time haredi yeshiva students, it is believed that many thousands do not comply with the requirements for study, although hard data is not available.

Proposals to replace the Tal Law are currently front and center in the coalition negotiations being conducted between all the major Knesset factions. The haredi parties are extremely concerned that a government will be formed with a majority that will allow for radical change in the current status of yeshiva students.

On Wednesday morning, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid declared that he in no way sought to damage the Torah world.

“My entire life I have been reading and studying the Bible, in my eyes Torah study is part and parcel of Israel’s existence,” he said, adding that there are two Orthodox rabbis who are now Yesh Atid MKs.

“But Torah study cannot become the excuse for eightyear- old boys not to study math and English, and for 18- year-olds not to serve their homeland, and for 28-yearolds not to work to sustain their families.

“Everyone has the right to learn Torah, but Torah learning cannot become the excuse for a person not fulfilling the most basic obligations to his country, his family and to the society in which he lives,” he
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