Haredi Councils of Torah Sages: No-one has right to draft yeshiva students into the army

Degel HaTorah, Agudat Yisrael says removing students learning Torah from yeshiva poses spiritual danger to them.

Haredi protest in Jerusalem 390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Haredi protest in Jerusalem 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The two leading bodies of the ultra-Orthodox community published a declaration on Tuesday morning in haredi daily newspapers strongly protesting any attempts to draft yeshiva students into military service.
The councils of Torah sages of both the non-hassidic Degel Hatorah movement and the hassidic Agudat Yisrael movement issued a joint statement after convening separately Monday night, saying that the government had no right to remove anyone learning Torah from the study hall.
“The place of Torah students is in the tents of Torah, and no one had the right to uproot them or harm the essence of the right to our existence in the Holy Land, and for sure there is no right to draft them and force them into the army, where the very fact of them being there is a spiritual danger to their way of life and their faith,” read the statement.
The councils also expressly rejected the notion of criminal or economic penalties for yeshiva students refusing to enlist, referring to proposals put forward in legislation currently in the Knesset to increase haredi enlistment.
The councils’ message also addressed yeshiva students directly and implored them to “stand with might, strength and power at your guard posts, and do not surrender one but to those who want to separate you from the source of life.”
The statement of the two councils comes as the Knesset Special Committee reviewing the government bill for drafting haredim into national service is close to completing its work.
The council of Degel Hatorah convened in Bnei Brak, along with more than 100 yeshiva deans from around the country, while Agudat Yisrael’s council gathered in Jerusalem.
Agudat Yisrael’s council, comprising 15 grand rabbis of the largest hassidic communities, is the foremost decision-making body of the hassidic community.
Likewise, its Degel Hatorah counterpart represents the non-hassidic haredi population and is also comprised of 15 senior rabbis.
Speaking in Bnei Brak, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the acknowledged leader of the non-hassidic haredi world, spoke out harshly against efforts to draft yeshiva students.
“There are today people who want to destroy the Jewish People, to destroy the Torah,” he said. “For this we need to plead [to God] that such things will not happen since our people only exists through the Torah,” he added in a short speech to the gathered yeshiva deans.
No firm decisions were made at either council meeting, Degel Hatorah meeting between Shteinman and the yeshiva deans, and Agudah’s council likewise did not make any concrete determinations.
Both bodies are waiting to see the final outcome of the government bill on haredi enlistment before formally responding and instructing the community and especially men of military age how to act.
An informal spokesman for the Degel council emphasized that the rabbinic leadership was opposed to any form of sanctions, economic or criminal, against yeshiva students.
He also insisted that the rabbis believe that the government is trying to wage war against their community and that the haredi world is simply reacting to the government but does not seek any conflict with it.
He added that if the government “will act coercively” to try and draft haredi students then the community would march en masse against such a decision “dwarfing” recent protests conducted by the even more extreme sectors of the haredi community.
The government bill is still in the Knesset Special Committee but the major issues are expected to be decided on shortly, after which it will be brought back to the Knesset plenum for its second and third readings.
The recent arrests of two yeshiva students who refused to present themselves to IDF enlistment offices when called to do so has further complicated the matter for the mainstream haredi leadership.
The two haredi men, aged 18 and 19, refused two weeks ago to report to the IDF because they adhere to the rulings of hardline haredi leader Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach who, unlike Shteinman, had instructed yeshiva students not to even present themselves at enlistment offices.
The first man to be detained, Moshe Erashvilli was imprisoned for 14 days in a military jail but was released on Friday. The second man, Yechiel Kennig, is still detained but is expected to be released next week.
The publicity these arrests generated in the ultra-Orthodox community, increased by several high-profile protests by haredi extremists, has ramped up the pressure on Shteinman and the mainstream haredi leadership to more harshly oppose any progress on the issue.
Grand Rabbi of the Viznitz Hassidim Yisroel Hager, one of the most influential members of Agudah’s Council of Torah Sages, reportedly said recently that he was personally in favor of yeshiva students not presenting themselves when called to do so.
This position has not been supported by mainstream haredi leaders until now.
One of the main issues under debate within the government regarding the legislation on haredi enlistment is by what means to enforce haredi enlistment in national service programs.
During the course of the Knesset committee’s deliberations on the bill, haredi MKs have insisted that allowing imprisonment for yeshiva students who refuse to enlist in military or national service would be unacceptable in any format.
The MKs said that if such a stipulation were included in the new law, the ultra-Orthodox leadership, political and rabbinic, would see it as an ideological attack on the Torah, and would oppose the implementation of the new statute by all possible means at their disposal.
However, the same MKs have noted that if less severe penalties are imposed, such as financial penalties, then the opposition from the haredi leadership will be less severe.
According to MK Moshe Gafni, who has attended many of the committee hearings, the haredim will never support such measures, and believe that they constitute an attack on the “Torah world,” but would nevertheless not fight against the implementation of such a bill as they would if criminal sanctions are stipulated.