President Shimon Peres met on Sunday morning with Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar to discuss the ever-growing rift between the haredi and secular sectors of the population over the formulation of new legislation for haredi enlistment into national service programs.

Amar sought Peres’s assistance in quelling what he termed the baseless hatred that is threatening the unity of the nation, and insisted that arguments can be expressed in a respectful manner.

“There’s a dispute going on at the moment, in which on the one hand our soldiers – may God preserve them – feel a sense of deprivation that they are contributing and bearing their lives in defense of the state; and on the other hand, yeshiva students who kill themselves in the tent of Torah and who continue to preserve the existence of the Jewish people,” Amar said.

The chief rabbi said he had come to speak with Peres to issue a joint call, that arguments be conducted with the love and friendliness of brothers.

While demonstrating understanding for the arguments of both sides, Amar said he could see a gradual change in ultra-Orthodox attitudes. He added that there is no doubt that some haredim are willing to serve in the army and with the passage of time, there will be even greater change in the haredi community.

In fact, he said, there are thousands of such young men. But the disputes between the haredi and the non-haredi sectors of society must not be as strident as they have been, he said.

“We have many common goals,” he said, emphasizing that the three-week period between the 17th of Tamuz and Tisha Ba’av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples, was an opportune time for reconciliation – given that the temples were destroyed because of baseless hatred.

Peres agreed that everything possible must be done towards achieving mutual understanding and to resolve the dispute.

There is no difference of opinion that everyone who can serve in the IDF should serve, said Peres.

He reminded Amar that in the seven harsh wars that Israel had fought, there had always been a shortage of manpower and resources.

The enmity with which Israel is surrounded demands that the burden of service be shared equally by everyone, Peres noted.

He recalled that when David Ben-Gurion had acceded to the request that a certain number of Torah scholars be exempt from army service, the intention had been a small number and not the whole haredi community.

The number agreed upon at the time was between 300-400 students, said Peres. Since then, he continued, the numbers had increased beyond all proportion, which has become problematic.

Despite calls for moderation in the tone of the debate, the hardline Eda Haredit organization has arranged a new demonstration against haredi enlistment that will take place on Monday afternoon, in which, the group stated, haredi children will walk handcuffed through the streets of Jerusalem.

The Eda has issued a “holy call to all children studying in the halls of the rabbis” to gather in Shabbat Square in Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim neighborhood, “to express loudly the pain of haredi Jews in Israel and abroad.”

The banner of the protest will be “Her young children have been taken into captivity before the adversary,” an extract from the Book of Lamentations, read on Tisha Be’av.

On Saturday night, revered rabbi and spiritual leader of the Shas political movement Rabbi Ovadia Yosef prayed that God protect all yeshiva students, and said those trying to draft them “have no faith and are heretics.”

“We are surrounded by those who hate us: Iran, Hezbollah, the Palestinians,” he said during his weekly Torah address. “Correct, the IDF guards the borders, but what can they do against evil people?” “Who guards us, only the Torah and God,” Yosef declared, and prayed that God “grant political leaders intelligence so that they will not harm the Jewish people.”

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