Haredi Knesset parties working to convince Agudah to back enlistment law

Agudah, representing the hassidic haredi community, has opposed the current bill whereas Degel and Shas who see it as the best of a bad situation.

August 15, 2018 18:58
2 minute read.
Haredi Knesset parties working to convince Agudah to back enlistment law

Ultra-Orthodox protestors of the draft are sprayed with water canons in Bnei Brak. (photo credit: AVRAHAM SASSONI)


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Efforts are under way in the Degel Hatorah and Shas parties to convince the leadership of Agudat Yisrael to halt its opposition to proposed legislation to increase Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) enlistment to the IDF.

Agudah, representing the hassidic community, has opposed the current bill whereas Degel and Shas see it as the best of a bad situation. (Degel Hatorah together with Agudah comprise the United Torah Judaism Party.)

Rebbe Yaakov Aryeh Alter, the grand rabbi of the Gur hassidic dynasty, together with Avraham Weinberg, the grand rabbi of Slonim, have both led opposition to the law, and reject in principle the notion that the Haredi community should be obligated to send minimum numbers of young men to military service.

Rabbi Shalom Cohen, chairman of the Shas Council of Torah Sages, met recently with Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, one of the two most senior leaders of the non-hassidic Haredi community represented by Degel, to discuss the issue.

Cohen, who is known to be a hard-liner, has expressed support for the bill. The B’hadrei Haredim news website reported Wednesday that Cohen made comments in recent days to his yeshiva students in the Porat Yosef Yeshiva that “the current enlistment law, dependent on amendments we have requested, is the best that it could be and it’s a shame it’s being held up.”

Shas and Degel are in favor of the bill due to its moderate terms, including modest enlistment targets and the fact that implementation of the financial sanctions against the general yeshiva budget if targets are not met would be delayed by three years.

Agudat Yisrael has, however, expressed opposition to the very notion of financial sanctions, the notion of binding enlistment targets for the Haredi community and the fact that the law removes the ability of the defense minister to issue blanket exemptions from military service.

Agudah’s Council of Torah Sages is expected to convene in the coming weeks to discuss the issue, although a date is yet to be set – partly because some of the hassidic grand rabbis are still abroad, including Israel Hager, the grand rabbi of the Viznitz dynasty – which is one of the biggest and most influential of the hassidic groups.

According to well-placed sources, Degel and Shas are hoping that Yissachar Dov Rokeach, the grand rebbe of the Belz community, will represent a more moderate voice in the council and convince the hard-liners to compromise on the bill.

Degel and Shas are still trying to amend the bill and moderate some of its clauses. One of those clauses states that if targets are missed by more than 15% for three years in a row then the law would automatically be voided.

The two parties may try and increase this figure to 20%, reduce the enlistment targets, and increase the three-year period in which the financial sanctions are not implemented.

If they achieve some of these goals it could help Agudah swallow the bill, the source said.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is mediating between the Haredi parties and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who is advocating passing the bill in its current format.

She recently met with one of the co-deans of the renowned Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, Rabbi Baruch Dov Povarski, together with Degel Hatorah MK Yaakov Asher, to discuss possible compromises in the bill.

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