Menachem Eliezer Moses.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
United Torah Judaism MK Menachem Eliezer Moses has insisted that Agudat Yisrael, the hassidic half of UTJ, will quit the government if the financial sanctions in the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) enlistment bill currently being legislated are not removed.
The financial sanctions, to be imposed against the general yeshiva budget if enlistment targets are missed, constitute the centerpiece of the government bill, and removing them would empty the legislation of all meaning.
The draft law was approved in its first reading in the Knesset late Monday night by 63-39, and the first committee hearing on the legislation was held on Tuesday morning.
Although Shas and Degel Hatorah, the non-hassidic half of UTJ, are quietly satisfied with the bill due to its soft terms and delayed implementation, Agudat Yisrael and its rabbinic leadership have taken a more uncompromising line.
“There won’t be any compromise on the financial sanctions, we will not accept them,” Moses told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
“We will quit the government if they are not removed, this is the unanimous decision of Agudat Yisrael’s Council of Torah Sages,” the MK continued, saying the sanctions constitute a declarative statement by the state that Torah study should be punished, which is unacceptable to the party.
It is unlikely in the extreme that Yisrael Beytenu will agree to remove the financial sanctions clause, while Yesh Atid, which has supported the bill, would probably withdraw its backing too, meaning that Agudat Yisrael’s threat could yet spark a coalition crisis over the legislation.
Theoretically however, Agudat Yisrael and its three MKs could quit the government while leaving intact the coalition’s majority, currently of 65, and the enlistment law despite their opposition, especially given Yesh Atid’s support for the legislation.
During Tuesday’s committee hearing, one of the most prominent and vocal opponents of the financial sanctions was Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich, who said yeshiva students and IDF soldiers contributed equally to the state.
“The importance of military service cannot be overstated, but neither can the essence of Torah study,” he said.
“Someone who studies full-time in yeshiva contributes and serves the state no less that a soldier serving in the IDF,” he continued, arguing that the majority of soldiers “do not endanger themselves on the battlefield.”
Kulanu MK Merav Ben-Ari objected strenuously to Smotrich’s assertion, saying soldiers and yeshiva students could not be compared.
“Soldiers fight and endanger their lives so that they [yeshiva students] can study Torah,” she declared.
UTJ MK Yakov Asher said the debate in committee was being conducted on the basis of two completely different world views.
“We believe with a simple and basic faith that we have no right to existence without Torah study and it is our responsibility to protect Torah study… this is our truth.”
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