Haredim billed the protest as the “demonstration of the 70 elders.” Posters and flyers advertising it reportedly called the Government of Israel the “regime of destruction” and said it wanted to test the haredi community by judging its response to recent arrests of draft-dodging yeshiva students.
Above: file photo
Haredi 'Elders' Protest IDF
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
Approximately 100 haredi men from the vehemently anti-Zionist Edah Haredit haredi umbrella organization and from Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach’s Ashkenazi non-hasidic haredi rebel faction staged a protest today outside the IDF induction center in Jerusalem. According to the Jerusalem Post, most of the protestors were middle aged or elderly Edah rabbis.
Why only approximately 100 protesters, most of whom were relatively old?
Reportedly because Auerbach ordered his faction’s yeshiva students not to protest in the Hebrew month of Ellul, which immediately precedes the High Holidays, when Torah study is of supreme importance.
So haredim billed the protest as the “demonstration of the 70 elders.” Posters and flyers advertising it reportedly called the Government of Israel the “regime of destruction” and said it wanted to test the haredi community by judging its response to recent arrests of draft-dodging yeshiva students, most of whom belong to Auerbach’s faction.
“[We] protest against the evil conspiracy and…declare that we will never surrender [and join the IDF], not to enticements and not to torture,” the flyer reportedly said.
The father of 18-year-old Yinon Avitan, a member of Auerbach’s faction and the most recent haredi yeshiva student to be arrested for draft-dodging, told the Jerusalem Post he fully supports his son’s actions.
“His heart burns for God and for Torah study, he is doing this happily and with self-sacrifice. He is fighting for the values he believes [in] and [for] the importance of Torah study. We see their [i.e., the government’s] intentions; they want to make us into a type of European country without any semblance of Judaism or Jewish character. We need to do everything against this to trend and we will listen exactly to the words of our rabbis, as we are commanded by the Torah, in this regard,” Aharon Avitan told the Post.
The irony of this is that Avitan’s son and almost all of the other haredi yeshiva students arrested for dodging the draft are eligible for what is essentially a complete and total exemption from military service. All Avitan’s son and the other yeshiva students who were 18-years-of-age or older at the time the new draft law was passed this spring had to do is report to an IDF induction center when summoned and ask for it. Those haredim could get a 1-year exemption which could be renewed every year until they age out of the draft at 26-years-old. (This special privilege fades out ofter several years as the new law takes effect, but is replaced by a system of haredi draft quotas that essentially allows haredi rabbis to fill the haredi slots with ex-haredim, ba’al teshuvas, haredim who are very poor yeshiva students and traditional Sefardim who attended Sefardi haredi Shas schools but who are not themselves haredim.)
Those haredi yeshiva students who were 17-years-old or younger at the time the new draft law was passed have their own, likely illegal, exemptions given them by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
As for those exemptions, Israel’s High Court of Justice has for months tried to get Ya’alon, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party who hopes to challenge Netanyahu for party leadership and the premiership, to give it straight answers about these exemptions, to no avail. In most western democracies, this would spell the end of a defense minister’s career. In Israel, where disregard of the law and the High Court is almost a totem of the right-wing and haredim, it only enhances Ya’alon’s political stature.
So why are haredi yeshiva students being arrested for draft-dodging when they are essentially exempt from the draft?
Because Auerbach and a handful of other senior haredi rabbis like the Slonimer Rebbe ordered them not to report to IDF induction centers when summoned and to disregard all draft notices.
The reason only a handful out of what is thought to be hundreds of overt haredi draft-dodgers have been arrested is that someone – maybe even Ya’alon – apparently ordered the IDF not to look for them.
In fact, until Avitan’s recent arrest, all other arrested haredi draft-dodgers were reportedly first identified by police or customs authorities as a byproduct of being stopped for traffic violations or other run-ins with the law, or as a byproduct of reentering the country after a trip overseas. In each case, a simple and regularly performed computer check on the individual to see if he is wanted for another crime, is on a terror watch list, or has citizenship or other issues pulls up the individual’s draft status. And it was reportedly these encounters that led to all the previous arrests.
At the protest, a haredi yeshiva student told the Post that the IDF could simply send deferment papers to him by mail. The only reason they were forcing him to report to get them was to have the chance to try to brainwash him inside the induction center.
Another haredi yeshiva student from Auerbach’s faction told the Post that the haredi world is at “war” with the State of Israel, and that haredim have to fight to protect their values.
“I don’t know why [the so-called mainstream Ashkenazi non-hasidic haredi faction led by Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman] can’t see we’re at war [against the government],” the student said, attacking Steinman’s ruling that haredi yeshiva students should answer the first draft notice by reporting to an IDF induction center, stating only their name, the address the draft notice was mailed to, and that they are haredi yeshiva students who study Torah all day, and we will not serve in the IDF. Steinman forbade them from filling out or signing any forms given them by the IDF or from taking or viewing any information about the IDF or military service while in an IDF induction center.
Haredi rabbinic leaders oppose drafting haredi yeshiva students in large part because serving in the IDF, even in special haredi units, would expose haredim to non-haredi views and to non-haredi life, and that would, the rabbis fear, lead to a weakening of faith and, likely, a large outflow of young people from the haredi community.