President Peres with Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar.
(photo credit: GPO)
President Shimon Peres met on Sunday morning with Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo
Amar to discuss the ever-growing rift between the haredi and secular sectors of
the population over the formulation of new legislation for haredi enlistment
into national service programs.
Amar sought Peres’s assistance in
quelling what he termed the baseless hatred that is threatening the unity of the
nation, and insisted that arguments can be expressed in a respectful
“There’s a dispute going on at the moment, in which on the one
hand our soldiers – may God preserve them – feel a sense of deprivation that
they are contributing and bearing their lives in defense of the state; and on
the other hand, yeshiva students who kill themselves in the tent of Torah and
who continue to preserve the existence of the Jewish people,” Amar
The chief rabbi said he had come to speak with Peres to issue a
joint call, that arguments be conducted with the love and friendliness of
While demonstrating understanding for the arguments of both
sides, Amar said he could see a gradual change in ultra-Orthodox attitudes. He
added that there is no doubt that some haredim are willing to serve in the army
and with the passage of time, there will be even greater change in the haredi
In fact, he said, there are thousands of such young men. But
the disputes between the haredi and the non-haredi sectors of society must not
be as strident as they have been, he said.
“We have many common goals,”
he said, emphasizing that the three-week period between the 17th of Tamuz and
Tisha Ba’av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples,
was an opportune time for reconciliation – given that the temples were destroyed
because of baseless hatred.
Peres agreed that everything possible must be
done towards achieving mutual understanding and to resolve the
There is no difference of opinion that everyone who can serve in
the IDF should serve, said Peres.
He reminded Amar that in the seven
harsh wars that Israel had fought, there had always been a shortage of manpower
The enmity with which Israel is surrounded demands that
the burden of service be shared equally by everyone, Peres noted.
recalled that when David Ben-Gurion had acceded to the request that a certain
number of Torah scholars be exempt from army service, the intention had been a
small number and not the whole haredi community.
The number agreed upon
at the time was between 300-400 students, said Peres. Since then, he continued,
the numbers had increased beyond all proportion, which has become
Despite calls for moderation in the tone of the debate, the
hardline Eda Haredit organization has arranged a new demonstration against
haredi enlistment that will take place on Monday afternoon, in which, the group
stated, haredi children will walk handcuffed through the streets of
The Eda has issued a “holy call to all children studying in
the halls of the rabbis” to gather in Shabbat Square in Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim
neighborhood, “to express loudly the pain of haredi Jews in Israel and
The banner of the protest will be “Her young children have been
taken into captivity before the adversary,” an extract from the Book of
Lamentations, read on Tisha Be’av.
On Saturday night, revered rabbi and
spiritual leader of the Shas political movement Rabbi Ovadia Yosef prayed that
God protect all yeshiva students, and said those trying to draft them “have no
faith and are heretics.”
“We are surrounded by those who hate us: Iran,
Hezbollah, the Palestinians,” he said during his weekly Torah address. “Correct,
the IDF guards the borders, but what can they do against evil people?” “Who
guards us, only the Torah and God,” Yosef declared, and prayed that God “grant
political leaders intelligence so that they will not harm the Jewish people.”