Two of the most senior haredi rabbis in Israel, Aharon Leib Shteinman and Shmuel Auerbach, have both declared over the past two days that there is “no room for compromise” on the issue of haredi enlistment.
Their pronouncements came after reports last week that Shteinman, the spiritual leader of the haredi community, was not opposed to the principles of one particular plan for increasing haredi enlistment to national service programs that had been presented to him.
In a public pronouncement printed in haredi newspapers on Wednesday, Auerbach wrote that he was joining the call for prayer against “the decree to uproot the Torah,” and initiatives to “harm” the status of yeshiva students.
“Without doubt we will defend our lives with all our power for the existence of the Torah,” Auerbach wrote. “God should bring the hearts of our lost brothers closer to our Father in heaven and defeat any attempt to harm the heart of Judaism, God forbid.”
On Tuesday, Shteinman issued a similar decree which was published on the front page of the haredi Yated Ne’eman daily newspaper.
“No compromise is appropriate in this issue in order that Torah should not cease among the Jewish people,” the rabbi wrote. He added that being present in the framework of the army “causes great spiritual danger, may God have mercy, and this is the opposite of what we teach our children.”
He said that the government should not disturb the haredi community on this issue “because it is the essence of our existence and purpose in life and if it is taken from us it would be the greatest travesty, if we would not be able to fulfill the will of God.”
Shteinman specifically referenced what he called the appropriate age for a young haredi man to study Torah, saying that beginning to learn at an older age is not conducive to producing outstanding Torah scholars.
Some recently proposed plans for haredi enlistment, including that of Yesh Atid, mandate a universal draft at age 18. The community’s spiritual leadership is loathe to agree to such terms since they feel that the haredi identity and commitment to an ultra- Orthodox lifestyle is far weaker at this young age. They fear that entry into the army at a young age would lead many young haredi men away from the community.
But both of these pronouncements could be public posturing.
As reported last week by The Jerusalem Post, senior rabbis authorized by Shteinman to deal with the political demands for increased haredi enlistment are thought to have indicated that Shteinman was open to a plan being drafted by Prof. Yedidia Stern, a former member of the Plesner Committee which deliberated on the issue in the summer.
In the past, Shteinman has in the been slightly less hardline on the issue than his peers. He sent a representative to observe the Tal Committee which established the recently expired arrangement for yeshiva students in 2002, and also gave tacit support for the establishment of the Nahal Haredi battalion for ultra-Orthodox soldiers.
The haredi community’s discourse on the issue is currently feverish, with its more conservative elements dragging the leadership to extreme positions.
Auerbach is one such radical who sincerely opposes any compromise on the issue of enlistment. Shteinman is thought to have sought Auerbach’s opinion on the Stern plan last week, which is believed to have been categorically opposed.