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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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