Before the vote, passionate speeches were delivered by the UTJ MKs, who expressed the pain in their hearts. It was a prelude to the act suggested earlier by MK Rabbi Litzman at a faction meeting that if the law passes, they would all rise and tear kriah as a sign of mourning. While this was a far-reaching step, it has a deep significance in Jewish tradition and resonated across the nation.
Following are excerpts of the MKs’ speeches in which they pleaded with MKs not to get dragged into a law conjured solely for the purpose of harassing chareidim.
“I am pleading at this last minute, don’t cause a rift in the nation,” MK Rabbi Yaakov Litzman said before the vote and added that “All your grandparents were moser nefesh for their Judaism, they went into the flames because they were Jews, and kept the Torah. I don’t want to think what will be here if they annul the Torah.
“As we go to a vote, your grandparents, who were moser nefesh for Torah in past generations are looking at you to see exactly what you will be doing. They gave their lives for this. Don’t be surprised; we, too, will give our lives for this. Not a single person will go to the army because of what you are enacting. It’s a waste of time.”
Referring to Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, he said, “I want to remind you that there was once a party named Shinui, which also acted under the banner of a war against chareidim, and nothing else. Its chairman laughed; he also humiliated chareidim. But he disappeared. In one night, his 15 mandates disappeared. Overnight. A minister with 19 mandates can disappear just as easily. Is it possible to build on a hatred of religion? I know one thing: you build on the positive, you act positively; you donhumiliate the weak and the middle class.”
Then Rabbi Litzman addressed Jewish Home: “We were brothers, once upon a time. But I saw, based on the discussions in the Knesset Finance Committee, that there is no sentiment for Torah. You have no problem with destroying Torah. The fact is, you also agree to cuts in yeshivah budgets, even though it is contingent on the chairman of the Finance Committee. He could have prevented it, and if he didn’t it’s a sign that you agree to what they are doing. There is no one else in the country getting a 54% budget cut. Only the chareidim, the yeshivos. And that is why I said, you had a disengagement once, and you are trying to cause another disengagement — of us from the Torah, but it won’t help you.”
MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni said that “because of the harm to Torah, suddenly the Golan isn’t quiet, the economy is not in good shape and our credit rating was lowered. It’s all because of a cynical person like Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who doesn’t care about Am Yisrael. There are people like us who believe that without Torah, there is no right for Am Yisrael to exist. You can smile and gloat when I say this, but no law will change our lifestyle. We’re not afraid.”
MK Rabbi Menachem Eliezer Moses began his speech by saying that “What has not yet been said this evening? It’s almost morning. I heard Finance Minister Lapid before citing the passuk, “Six days you shall work and do all your tasks.” But I didn’t hear the rest of the passuk, “And on the seventh day it is Shabbos for Hashem, do not do any work, you, your son and your daughter.
“I also heard Yair Lapid quoting the Rambam on the importance of work. But I didn’t hear him quote the Rambam about one who accepts upon himself the burden of Torah is like Shevet Levi, who is exempt from Army service. I didn’t hear that part of the quote. Likewise, I also didn’t hear the quote we say twice a day: ‘Vedibarta bam…uv’shachbekah uve’kumecha…’ about the mitzvah of learning Torah.
“I want to tell you something. This law being presented is impossible to implement. No yeshivah bachur will be forcibly drafted. No law can take yeshivah students out of their yeshivos. As such, it is a culture war against the chareidi sector. And when it’s a culture war, no law can win. Our only authorities are Gedolei Yisrael, and the authority for every yeshivah bachur that you plan to draft is the Rosh Yeshivah or his Rebbe. This community is not afraid of jail.
“In general, they’re now talking about firing 4,000 career soldiers, closing down operations and bases. How, if so according to your methods, do you plan to adapt army service for chareidim? Separate frameworks? Mr. Perry, you know very well that the Nachal Chareidi is funded by a Jew from Los Angeles. Yes. So where do you plan to find the NIS 4 billion to fund special frameworks, as the army report states? How do you plan to fund the drafting of these yeshivah students? I want to understand this. You can’t support the Nachal Charedi financially, and suddenly this has all become so urgent.
“However you look at it, it doesn’t work: I heard here from MKs that they need to make sure they [yeshivah bachurim] are placed in regular frameworks, Mr. Chairman, they [will] just disturb there. And if you are planning to build separate frameworks including gender separation, you heard the opposition before. It’s certainly not worth it for you to take them into regular frameworks, because you won’t recognize your own children when they return for service. They will all be baalei teshuvah, influenced by the yeshivah bachurim in their units.”
MK Rabbi Yisrael Eichler turned directly to the MKs and spoke: “Now I turn to the MKs from the Likud and Jewish Home. Know today that you, too, are being forced, you are voting for a law that determines that those who learn Torah over the age of 21 are criminals like the murderers in jail. Indictments presented to the court will state: The State of Israel against the Torah of Israel. And therefore, this day will be remembered for generations as the day the Jewish state declared war on the Torah.
“I have to say that I heard non-chareidi MKs speaking here in a heartwarming fashion, and I’m not being at all cynical. They truly see us as brothers and don’t want a rift in the nation. But there are also people that we sense are making the nation feel that there are enemies of the nation among us, like the Communist propaganda called them, ‘Counterrevolutionaries’…and I’m sure Mr. Chairman [former refusenik Yuli Edelstein—Ed.] you are familiar with these terms.
“And therefore, when this law is presented as it is today, with the transformation of Torah-learners into criminals, this day will be remembered as the day war was declared on the Torah. We’re not afraid. When the law was presented we said Selichos here in the Knesset and blew shofar…. We’re not afraid because Gedolei Yisrael said Tehillim tonight and “they rose and fell, and we rose and were strengthened.”
However, Rabbi Eichler continued, “there were some very constructive suggestions by people, such as MK Chasson and others, who said it is preferable to invest the billions of shekels it will cost to draft chareidim to remunerate the soldiers who do enlist, instead of forcing the draft on those who don’t want to serve. We know that the Defense Ministry has decided to fire thousands of career soldiers. All the army heads concede quietly, like the anusim of Spain, that there is no security need for a mandatory draft in general, and a draft of chareidim in particular. The ranks of enlistees have grown, and the Arab armies are splintered, missiles and computers, intelligence and technology are what will determine the future wars. And in this area, chareidim who don’t learn [in yeshivos] and do integrate into these tracks are no less good at these technologies than others. The army is preparing to cut down on massive enlistments and instead wants to invest huge sums in cutting edge technology.
“Therefore, anyone who talks about forcibly drafting yeshivah students has only one goal, and I believe Minister Perry is also doing this because he is being forced to: a cultural war and a de facto disengagement from Torah and a Jewish education. And that is why they’re already fighting against the young children in chadarim, who won’t get their bread and water, so that when they will be 18, out of gratitude to the state that starved them, they will go and enlist. How illogical can you get?
“This is a culture war declared by the Reform parties that are part of the coalition. To date, they used the High Court, and we will not forgive nor forget, that the High Court is the one that threw this flaming grenade and split this country and created a rift that will not heal for many years to come. Today they have captured the government. They want to draft chareidi youth, not because they need soldiers. They need them in their war against Torah and the Jewish faith. And that’s why they want to use the army, a large part of which is religious and traditional already today, as a tool in the war against Judaism, instead of a tool to fight wars against Israel’s enemies.
“We see this decree as a ‘Cantonist decree’ against those who learn Torah, to integrate them into the secular cultures of the rest of the nations. I don’t want to generalize, because we suffer from generalizations, but there are people who really want chareidim who don’t learn [in yeshivos] to join the army out of national solidarity, and they are ready to enable those who are learning to protect Am Yisrael with their Torah.
“Nevertheless, those leading the fight for the forced draft don’t really want chareidi soldiers who bear arms…They want to delegitimize the existence of the family that is raising Torah-true Jews dedicated to the traditions of their fathers, and will continue to carry the torch of Yiddishkeit for the subsequent generations.
“We daven that in the merit of those who learn Torah with devotion, Hashem will protect Am Yisrael from the kitrug that is inherent in the declaration of war against the Torah that was enacted today in Knesset. Our brothers are in trouble and in captivity, and the residents of this country from Kiryat Shemoneh to Gush Dan and to the south are in the line of fire from missiles from Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas. Only in the merit of Torah and tefillah will they be protected from the kitrug of those who have voted to uproot Torah. And therefore, for those who vote for this law, we will not forgive nor forget.”
MK Rabbi Yaakov Asher began by saying that “the biggest deception since the establishment of the state is unfolding before our eyes. A person heads a party that is having a good time right now, and leads this nation to an unforgivable rift, and, chalilah, an irreparable one. Sometimes, it happens that leaders do hard, painful things, but the result is positive. But here, we are witness to a process that we all know will end up with nothing, that has no purpose, but whose consequences are destructive.
“The issue of learning Torah and the yeshivah world has been in dispute for generations. The previous leaders were no less courageous, or less smart, than those who lead the state today. But they understood that you cannot build an army by force. You cannot forcibly draft people whose faith is firmly based on the fact that learning Torah is their job in this world and through Torah learning they are protecting Am Yisrael.
So it’s true that most of the population does not believe that, and that is why this has always been a loaded topic. But all the prime ministers, from Ben Gurion, to Menachem Begin, Yitzchak Rabin and, ybl”c, Shimon Peres, knew that this topic was one in dispute, and there is a large sector of the public that feels that the second part does not share the burden. But they also understood, those leaders, that unity and a wish to respect the faith of a public that cleaved to the faith of their fathers and grandfathers back to Har Sinai, is important, and that that the way to go is not to force a person to act in contravention to his conscience. And that is why they refrained from doing the irresponsible thing that this government is doing. They knew how to make wise decisions that took into account the consequences of an aggressive, erroneous process, even when it wasn’t popular with voters.
“One of the first steps Prime Minister Menachem Begin took as prime minister was cancelling the quotas of those who could learn Torah under “Torasam umnasam” Begin said at the time, ‘Mr. Chairman, I, who experienced the anti-Semitic limitations in Poland on the number of Jews who could study in universities, will not put a quota on Jews in Eretz Yisrael who want to learn Torah,’ and I end quote.
“There is no doubt that what we are lacking today is a courageous and responsible leader. Unfortunately, the leader of the Likud, who is also the prime minister, has gotten railroaded by a coalition partner who was forced on him, and who we know, was raised in a home where he was told that there is no Creator, no Torah, no faith, and that anyone classified as religious or chareidi is a “galus” Jew — primitive, lacking in culture, and all they want to do is take from the state coffers. That boy grew up to be our Finance Minister. This is what he absorbed at home. This Knesset can testify to that. And today he tries to persuade us that all he is concerned about is the chareidi public, his brothers.”
MK Rabbi Uri Maklev said: “The government wants to enact a law that will prevent people from learning Torah in Eretz Yisrael, to tear people away from their Gemaras and send them to jail. And for that it is asking for confidence? You can enact any law you want, but we know that we only grow stronger from this harassment. When we learn Torah under duress, we get stronger. The merits are for those who learn, not for the state.
“Today, Tu B’Av, we did not say Tachanun. On this day, they didn’t have to gather wood for the mizbei’ach and were able to learn undisturbed. It was a joyous day for Am Yisrael. But now this government wants to turn it into a day of mourning.”
He also referred to Jewish Home, the pillar holding together the coalition. “Before you speak out against two states for two peoples, you should know that already today, we may be one state, but we are not one nation. You will be in the State of Israel and we will be in Eretz Yisrael, with Torah, Yisrael and in the merit of that Torah.”