Rabbi Kanievski: haredi enlistment law ‘lesser of two evils’

Netanyahu: haredi enlistment bill needs to be passed in current Knesset session.

Rabbi Haim Kanievski  (photo credit: DAVID ZER)
Rabbi Haim Kanievski
(photo credit: DAVID ZER)
The leading rabbi of the non-hassidic “Lithuanian” haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, told senior United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni on Sunday that the recently proposed bill for haredi enlistment is acceptable and can be advanced through the Knesset.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that the rabbi described the bill as “the lesser of two evils,” that Degel Hatorah MKs – forming half of the UTJ Knesset faction – should not go to war over the legislation, and that it could be supported in general.
Kanievsky did not, however, authorize the specific wording and clauses of the bill, but rather the proposal in general terms. Changes may be requested.
Gafni met with several other leading haredi rabbis on Sunday morning to discuss the issue, including Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, Rabbi Moshe Hillel Hirsch, Rabbi Baruch Mordechai Ezrahi and Rabbi Baruch Dov Povarsky.
The decision is highly significant since the bill includes financial sanctions from the state’s budget against haredi yeshivas if enlistment targets are not met, meaning that Kanievsky and the other rabbis have ostensibly given consent to the notion that there can be negative consequences if haredi men do not enlist to the IDF.
The vague language coming from Kanievsky’s entourage and the stipulation that “certain changes” will be requested indicate, however, that Degel MKs will likely try and water down the financial sanctions.
During a meeting of coalition party leaders on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the bill should speedily advance, be authorized by the government within two weeks and passed into law before the end of the Knesset’s summer session on July 19.
“Decisions need to be made [and] agreements formed so as to bring the bill for authorization by the government within two weeks,” Netanyahu said.
Kanievsky’s approval comes following opposition expressed to the bill on Thursday by the Council of Torah Sages of Agudat Yisrael, the hassidic half of UTJ.
The grand rabbis of the hassidic groups which make up Agudat Yisrael said that their MKs should quit the coalition if the bill is passed by the Knesset, although they seemingly left room for changes to be made to the legislation.
It is unclear how the apparently opposing positions of the hassidic and Lithuanian rabbis will be reconciled, although MKs from Degel and Aguda reportedly met on Sunday to try and resolve some of the differences.
Agudat Yisrael is firmly opposed to the financial sanctions, with Aguda MK Menachem Eliezer Mozes telling haredi radio station Kol Barama on Sunday that “there is nothing to discuss on the enlistment law as long as there are [financial] sanctions. If the sanctions are canceled we’ll take it [the bill] back to the rabbis.”
He also threatened that Aguda’s MKs would quit the coalition immediately if the law was passed even in a first reading without their support.
Removing the sanctions would make the law completely ineffectual, however, and the Yisrael Beytenu chairman and Defense Minister, Avigdor Liberman, is adamant that the new law include financial penalties for failure to enlist.
And Liberman has said that he wants the bill, proposed by a special committee in his ministry, to be passed without changes.
“We drafted this outline, which serves as the basis of the [draft] law, and look – the fact that it is not creating a storm, without wars – everyone understands that this is a non-political bill which is for the benefit of the IDF... I hope that we pass it exactly as it is, because that’s the only option,” the defense minister said at the Bar-Ilan Forum on Thursday.
“I don’t see any other option for any other law which will be [accepted] by everyone,” he added.