In a historic gathering, the respective rabbinical councils of the two mainstream Ashkenazi haredi political movements in Israel met Thursday night in Bnei Brak to publicly express their opposition to the removal of the blanket exemption from military service enjoyed by full-time yeshiva students.

Both Degel HaTorah, the non-hassidic Ashkenazi haredi political party, and Agudat Yisrael, the political party representing hassidic Jewry, are led by their own council of Torah sages, which are both comprised of the leading rabbis of the respective communities.

“We are greatly afraid and pained by the wave of dirty incitement, coming from a handful of people, that is flooding the residents of the Land of Israel against the haredim and the word of God,” the two councils declared in a joint statement.

This incitement is directed in particular towards “those who study the holy Torah – the beloved yeshiva students in whose merit the world exists – who are engaged in Torah day and night, who are elevated with a holy and pure fear of heaven,” it said.

The declaration added that it had convened in order to publicly strengthen “our representatives, the emissaries of the rabbis,” meaning the United Torah Judaism MKs, which is a joint list of political representatives from both Agudat Yisrael and Degel HaTorah.

“They work faithfully according to the directives of the councils of Torah sages against those elements that are trying to harm the world of holiness in general and Torah study in particular,” the councils said.

The assembled rabbis concluded their statement by calling on the heads of government not to make any changes to the way in which those studying Torah have been treated in the past, “or any of the matters that touch upon the Jewish character which has been established here in the Land of Israel from time immemorial.”

Agudat Yisrael’s council has not convened for the past 16 years, and many of the former members, mostly the grand rabbis of the various hassidic courts, have passed away since then.

At least nine new members, the sons, or family relations, of the late rebbes, were formally added to the council, which totals 15 members including the grand rabbis of the hassidic dynasties of Gur, Belz, Vizhnitz, Erlau, Sanz, Boyan, Slonim, Seret-Vizhnitz, Sadigura, Alexander and Modzitz.

According to Yisrael Cohen, a journalist for the Haredi website Kikar Hashabbat, the fact that so many of the most senior rabbis in the country – and of world Jewry – have assembled together illustrates the importance they attach to the issue of yeshiva students and their ability to continue studying.

It also demonstrates the unity of the haredi spiritual leadership on this matter, and their fear that the status of yeshiva status will be changed, that these two councils were able to come together and speak with one voice on the matter, Cohen said.

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