Tensions high in national religious community over participation in haredi draft rally

Criticism also leveled at chief rabbis for participating in demonstrations against ultra-Orthodox conscription.

Haredi mass prayer rally in Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Haredi mass prayer rally in Jerusalem
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Leading figures and organizations in the national-religious world have sharply criticized the participation in Sunday’s haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rally of several rabbis from the conservative wing of the religious Zionist movement.
Strong criticism has also been leveled at the chief rabbis who participated in the rally by standing outside the offices of the Chief Rabbinate amid the crowds and joining in the recitation of psalms recited during the event.
Opposition had been growing to the stated intention of a list of senior national-religious rabbis to attend before the weekend.
The Tzohar association of rabbis was particularly vocal in its opposition, and it issued a strongly worded statement on Friday against the participation of Zionist rabbis.
“This rally has been formally promoted by anti-Zionist hatred and violent anti-Semitic rhetoric,” executive vice president of Tzohar Nachman Rosenberg said.
“One cannot proclaim to be a Zionist rabbi and participate in comparing the State of Israel to a Kingdom of Evil and blatantly promote bloodshed,” he said, in reference to rhetoric used at the rally comparing the government to the Biblical account of Persian rulers in the Book of Esther who sought to destroy the Jewish people.
“Growing up in the Nazi concentration camps, my grandparents could have only dreamed about living in such an amazing state and serving in Israel’s Jewish army. The lack of basic appreciation to God, and loss of ideological resolve, is disappointing and shameful,” said Rosenberg in reference to Zionist rabbis who participated.
The Beit Hillel association of national-religious rabbis also spoke out strongly against the rally and the participation of people from the Zionist sector.
It said that one of the central foundations of religious Zionism was the integration of Torah study with military service, and that participation in the rally would contradict the central values of religious Zionism.
One of the most prominent of the national-religious rabbis to attend the rally was Tzfat’s Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu. He was accompanied by the dean of the prestigious national religious yeshiva Merkaz Harav, Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, the dean of the Hesder Yeshiva in Sderot, Rabbi David Fendel, Chief Rabbi Elyakim Levanon of the Samaria district, and others.
Students from some national religious yeshivas also attended.
Rabbis and students from other Zionist yeshivas were expected to join the rally but pulled out on that day in reaction to an inflammatory article in the best-selling haredi daily newspaper, Yated Ne’eman, against widely respected national-religious leader Rabbi Haim Druckman.
Speaking to Channel 2 on Saturday night, Druckman said that the suggestion that the government of Israel was fighting against God, as the senior haredi rabbinic leadership had declared, was unacceptable, and that people should not join the rally.
In response, Yated Ne’eman published an article attacking Druckman, whom it spoke of without referring to him as a rabbi, saying his comments were “shameless and of unprecedented hypocrisy.”
Tzohar chairman Rabbi David Stav slammed the comments about Druckman, and the haredi rally as a whole, as a “disgraceful manipulation of the Torah.”
On Monday, Stav debated Rabbi Fendel on the Galei Yisrael radio station on the issue.
Fendel said he had attended the rally to give honor to the Torah, to pray and to try and help improve relations with the haredi community.
Stav asked him in response if he would attend a Peace Now rally to identify with the cause of peace while continuing to maintain that Israel should hold on to Judea and Samaria.
“He went to a place where they are not prepared to say the prayer for the peace of the state and the prayer for the safety of IDF soldiers,” said Stav. “How can you go to a protest which has as its banner the claim that the State of Israel is waging war against God, that compares the state, which wants to make its children fulfill a mitzva from the Torah and serve in the army, to Haman [the figure in the Book of Esther who sought to destroy the Jewish people]?” Tzohar also heavily criticized the chief rabbis for participating in the rally.
Rosenberg said it was “hard to imagine something more distasteful and hypocritical than for Israel’s chief rabbis who are personally funded by the State of Israel, to participate in a rally that formally depicts Israel’s leaders as murderers and the State of Israel as an enemy of the Torah and of the Jewish people.”
Chief Rabbi David Lau took to his Facebook page to defend his participation in the event, saying that he and Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef merely recited psalms with the masses of the People of Israel for unity and peace among the nation.
“There were no political speeches, [there was] no speakers’ platform, no violence, and there was great and varied unity,” Lau wrote.
No speeches were given at the demonstration, but to conclude the rally, a declaration was read out calling on the government not to pass the current version of the enlistment bill and instructing yeshiva students not to enlist to the army.