The Chief Sephardic Rabbi, Rav Shlomo Moshe Amar, met President Shimon Peres Sunday in the President's Residence in Jerusalem, to discuss the enlistment of hareidi Torah scholars and the public debate over the issue.
The meeting was held at the Chief Rabbi's behest. Rav Amar has expressed his deep concern over the demands to force the enlistment of large numbers of hareidi Torah scholars, going so far as to attribute the occurence of an earthquake to the "persecution" of scholars.
"At this time, when spirits become inflamed, hatred may spread within the nation," Rav Amar told Peres at the outset of the meeting, with reporters present. "We are in days of discord. On the one hand our soldiers, may G-d watch over them, feel that they are being treated unfairly by risking their lives to defend the nation, and on the other hand there are yeshiva students who 'sacrifice their lives in the tent of Torah' and continue to safeguard the existence of the nation of Israel."
"I see a change taking shape in the hareidi public in the state of Israel," Rav Amar said, noting military programs like Nahal Hareidi and Shahar Kachol. "There are thousands who enlist and a process of change is taking place, de facto. I believe that over time we will see a true change within hareidi society."
"There are arguments within the nation, but the arguments must be respectful," the rabbi added. "I came to ask you, Your Excellency the President, that we issue a joint statement – the argument must be carried out with love and friendship, as brother to brother."
President Peres answered: "I respect His Excellency the Rabbi, and agree that everything possible must be done so that we reach understanding and not deep discord."
"I turn to the people of Israel and join the call of the Chief Rabbi – let us carry out this debate without extremism, in a supreme effort to find a solution in which the burden shall be properly shared within the nation for defending the homeland."
Peres noted that the original agreement between first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and the hareidi leadership regarded "300 to 400" yeshiva students, "but since then we have reached huge numbers – the amount has become a problem."