Council of Torah Sages convenes on haredi draft

Degel Hatorah movement was expected to convene in Bnei Brak to discuss the issue of haredi men and national service.

Haredi anti-Tal Law protest no-no-no 390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredi anti-Tal Law protest no-no-no 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Council of Torah Sages of the haredi Degel Hatorah movement was expected to convene Monday evening in Bnei Brak to discuss the issue of haredi men and national service, which they may no longer legally defer through full-time yeshiva study.
The council – headed by the acknowledged leader of the non-hassidic “Lithuanian” haredi community Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman – will also admit several new members – given the recent deaths of council members Rabbi Haim Pinchas Scheinberg and Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel.
New appointments to the council, which determines the stance of the ultra-Orthodox community on almost every issue of public life, have not been made for many years, and there are several potential new additions.
Members of the current council are Shteinman himself; Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, dean of the Maalot HaTorah Yeshiva in Jerusalem; Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, head of the rabbinical court in Bnei Brak; Rabbi Meir Tzvi Bergman, dean of the Rashbi Yeshiva in Bnei Brak; Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, dean of the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak; and Rabbi Yitzhak Shteiner, head of the Kamenitz Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
All of the council members were expected to be in attendance, along with Rabbi Haim Kanievsky, another leading rabbi and a supporter of Shteinman, who will also attend the meeting, although he is not an official member.
Kanievsky was taken to hospital yesterday for a minor complaint and has since been discharged.
The meeting, scheduled to take place in Shteinman’s residence in Bnei Brak, is also intended to serve as a unifying rally for the haredi community in light of what it perceives as threats to its lifestyle – due to the possible drafting of yeshiva students because of the expiration of the “Tal Law.”
The law, which provided a legal framework for haredi men to indefinitely defer military service through full-time yeshiva study, expired on August 1, after the High Court of Justice ruled in February that it could not be extended.
Currently, deferrals can no longer be granted, but the army is not prepared to immediately draft the approximately 50,00 yeshiva students who have been deferring their service through the Tal Law. The haredi leadership is extremely concerned about this state of legal limbo.
Divisions within the haredi community opened up following the illness and death of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the former leader of the “Lithuanian” haredim, last month.
Rabbi Auerbach, 86, was considered by his supporters to be the natural successor to Elyashiv, but Rabbi Shteinman, 98, succeeded in gaining acknowledgement as the new leader of the community.
The rare meeting of the council Monday evening with both Auerbach and Shteinman sitting together is being slated as a call for shalom bayit (familial peace) within the haredi community.
A low-level power struggle between the two became particularly rancorous in the battle the supporters of the respective rabbis fought over Yated Ne’eman, the daily newspaper of Degel Hatorah.
Shteinman’s supporters succeeded in gaining control of the newspaper, which had traditionally favored Auerbach.
Auerbach’s followers, led by the deposed editor and director of Yated Ne’eman, subsequently established a newspaper, HaPeles, claiming to represent the true path of Degel HaTorah as established by the movement’s founder Rabbi Elazar Menachem Shach.