Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, the leader of a hard-line haredi (ultra-Orthodox) faction, spoke out harshly against current legislative efforts to draft haredim into military service.
He said his group would fight until death in opposing such policies.
Auerbach, 82, heads a minority haredi faction, but has widespread support in the current atmosphere of the haredi community for his consistently fierce stance against any compromise with the state on the issue of enlistment.
Speaking to a gathering of loyalists and young yeshiva students in Jerusalem late Saturday night, Auerbach said that “the right of the state [to exist] is bound up in the merit of strengthening the Torah. When the state plots against the Torah, it has no right to exist. We will not surrender to them.”
Referring to the several yeshiva students whom military police arrested in recent months for refusing to present themselves to IDF offices upon receiving orders, Auerbach said that he valued these men for their actions.
“We will fight until the death, literally,” he declared.
Rabbi Baruch Shmuel Deutsch, another leading rabbi associated with Auerbach’s faction, told the gathering that it was “forbidden to enlist to the IDF,” and that one should give up one’s life before doing so.
Auerbach has consistently advocated a harder line than the mainstream haredi leadership on enlistment. He has told yeshiva deans to refuse any cooperation with the state and to tell their students not to present themselves to IDF recruiting offices when called.
The special Knesset committee on haredi enlistment decided last week that the new legislation being drawn up would include the imposition of the Law of the Security Services on haredi men refusing to serve, which provides for up to two years’ imprisonment.
Auerbach’s faction has claimed the legitimacy of its longtime position on refusing cooperation with the state through the argument that the government is intent on “persecuting” the haredi community.
Meanwhile, the mainstream rabbinic leadership will gather Monday night to discuss its own response at a historic meeting of the councils of Torah sages of the three mainstream haredi political movements: Degel Hatorah, Agudat Yisrael and Shas.
The main question for the councils is whether or not to stage a mass demonstration. The largest protest in recent months came in May last year, when between 20,000 to 30,000 haredim from the extremist Eda Haredit group, along with Auerbach’s faction, violently demonstrated in Jerusalem.
Some haredim have expressed concern that such a demonstration could strengthen the position of Yesh Atid and its chairman, Yair Lapid, especially if it became violent.
According to haredi news website Kikar Hashabbat, senior UTJ MK Moshe Gafni expressed his opposition to a mass protest before the weekend, saying that he was not afraid of Lapid but that “the one thing that could see him increase his number of Knesset seats is this protest.”