Outrage and Anguish Engulf Torah Jewry

YERUSHALAYIM -
A scene in the Mir Yeshivah in Mea Shearim, Yerushalayim. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A scene in the Mir Yeshivah in Mea Shearim, Yerushalayim. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Perry Committee Votes for Chareidi Draft Bill 

The state of Israel took an ominous if not irrevocable step toward drastically altering the 65-year-old status quo on Wednesday as the Perry Committee voted to impose criminal sanctions on yeshivah students who refuse to abandon their studies for military service.

The decision was the result of a deal worked out between Likud-Beiteinu and Yesh Atid in which the former agreed to criminal sanctions with a proviso that the period for implementing the new draft law would be extended from three years to four. In addition, a sub-section in the original formula which would have transferred authority for activating the sanctions from the defense minister to the Knesset was removed. As such, the decision on how to implement criminal sanctions
will lie with the defense minister.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon was reportedly still against the clause, but agreed to Yesh Atid’s demands after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu buckled under pressure from coalition partner Yair Lapid and instructed him not to hold up the law any longer.

The clause limiting annual exemptions for Torah study to 1,800 yeshivah students remained in place.

United Torah Judaism Chairman MK Rabbi Yaakov Litzman denounced the bill as “a disgrace to the state of Israel,” and reiterated his prediction that it “will not be implemented, because it is populist and unrealistic.”

Klal Yisrael was victorious throughout its history in its battles against the enemies of religion. Nor in the future will a situation arise where someone wishing to study Torah in Israel should find himself in jail. Netanyahu will go down in infamy for lending support to the persecutors of Torah,” he declared.

“The only law that is standing in front of our eyes is the law of ‘you shall do according to all they instruct you,’ (Devarim 17:10) UTJ MK Rabbi Menachem Moses said.

Speaking in the Knesset, UTJ MK Rabbi Yisrael Eichler referred to the parable that Avimelech told the people of Shechem (Shoftim 9:8-15) about the time the trees went forth to anoint a king over them. They offered the kingship to the olive tree, but it declined, as did the fig tree and the grapevine.

Then they offered it to the thorn.

“‘If in truth you anoint me king over you, [then] come and take refuge in my shade,” the thorn replied. “But if not, let fire come out of the thorn, and consume the cedars of Lebanon.”

“The cedars of Lebanon — those who learn Torah and in whose merit we exist, received a threat today from the King of the thorns, [namely] that the fire of sanctions will emerge to cut down the cedars,” Rabbi Eichler said.

He pointed out that the committee voted on 20th day of Sivan, a day that Rishonim declared to be a fast day to commemorate 56 Jews were burned al kiddush Hashem in Blois, France on this day in 4931 (1171), as a result of the first blood libel in Europe. Later, this fast was also accepted in 5410/1650 by the Vaad Arba Aratzos to also commemorate the intensification of the Tach-V’tat massacres by the Cossacks that had just occurred. In some communities, selichos is still recited on this day.

“There is no right to a Jewish state without the Torah,” Rabbi Eichler declared. “There is no right of existence for a democratic state which seeks to force a drastic change in the lifestyle and beliefs of its citizens, for religious freedom is parts of the foundation of every democracy.”

But the authors of the bill showed no sign of relenting in a campaign of coercion that portends a far more serious rift in the nation than already exists.

Head of the committee, Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Perry, stated that the implementation of criminal sanctions would be “unflinching.”

“The obligation to conscript is the mainstay of the law, and any attempt to breach would be met with uncompromising measures on our side. The status of the chareidi draft dodger will be the same as that of the secular draft dodger,” he said after the committee’s conclusions were announced.

Perry’s remarks followed a speech by Yair Lapid in which he denied that “what is occurring is an attack on the world of Torah. We have no intention of imposing secular values and our way of life on you, nor our version of ‘Israeliness.’”

But employing the rhetoric of divide-and-conquer, Lapid addressed “my chareidi brothers … not the chareidi politicians,” calling upon them to disregard the Gedolei Torah and their representatives, whom he accused of  trying “to intimidate you so they can control you.”

In the final vote, Perry, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat and Public Security Minister Yitzchak Aharonovich all voted in favor of the bill. Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz and MK Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) abstained.

The recommendations will now be submitted to the cabinet for approval, and then to the Knesset.

Ultimate passage into law is not a foregone conclusion. Yisrael Beiteinu and Jewish Home have yet to withdraw their opposition on the grounds that conscription of Arabs was not included in the provisions.

Labor party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich decried the proposals on Tuesday, saying they will not work, and that they will lower rather than raise chareidi recruitment numbers.

Knesset Education Committee chairman MK Amnon Mitzna (Movement) said that the so-called campaign for “sharing the burden” is “enveloped in hypocrisy.” He called upon his colleagues to “remove the beam from between our eyes, and set aside the bullying and verbal violence with which we relate to others…”

Mitzna listed a number of questions that must be answered on this issue: “Do we have any idea how much it will cost to draft the chareidim? Are we prepared to face images of military police dragging chareidi youth to jail by their tzitzis? I don’t believe we have offered honest answers to such questions.”

He advised instead that the country set for itself realistic goals for what it wants to achieve, and to replace coercive measures with positive incentives to enter the workforce and the military.