Hassidic Confab to Set Policy on Enlistment

Grand Rabbis of Belz, Gur, Wizhnitz, Bayan, Slonim, Tzanz, other hassidic sects to decide how to respond to demands to serve country.

Gil Ronen and Ari Soffer ,

Israel news photo: Flash 90

The top leadership of the hassidic hareidi Jewish stream will meet Monday to decide on a united position regarding demands that hareidi men enlist to the military or carry out alternative national service.

The Rebbes (Grand Rabbis) of Belz, Gur, Bayan, Slonim, Tzanz and others will meet at 5:00 p.m. at Beit Agudat Yisrael in Jerusalem, to decide how to deal with the crisis. The Rebbe of Wizhnitz, who is abroad, will participate by telephone. He is known as an opponent of any cooperation with the military, and tells young men under his leadership not to even show up at the IDF Enlistment Center when they receive a military summons.

At the conclusion of the discussion, an announcement will be sent to yeshiva students and their parents, telling them what to do when they receive a summons from the IDF. The announcement will most likely also be published in the hareidi newspapers.

The leadership of the Lithuanian hareidi stream – the Council of Torah Sages – is also set to convene and discuss the issue. 

Secularist party Yesh Atid, one of Likud-Beytenu's three partners in the governing Coalition, is adamant in its demand that hareidi men begin "pulling their weight" in terms of national service. At present, thousands of young hareidi men are exempted from serving in the military, so that they can study Torah instead. Many other Israelis are opposed to the measure, pointing out, among other things, that many of the young men gaining such exemptions do not, in fact, study Torah diligently, but only pretend to do so in order to win exemption from military service.

The belief in "full-time Torah learning" as an ideal - over military service or employment - is not shared by the Religious Zionist, or national-religious sector, whose Yeshivas (Torah academies) and Mechinot (military preparatory academies) combine intensive Torah learning and military service.

And although Yesh Atid are seen as the most aggressive proponents of hareidi enlistment they are not alone in advocating for what most Israelis consider a fairer alternative to the current status-quo.

Naftali Bennett's Jewish Home party has been a staunch supporter of the end to the hareidi exemption, although it opposes some of the more draconian sanctions for hareidi draft-dodgers - such as jail time - proposed by Yesh Atid. Other coalition members have also voiced their support for a change in the law, which has been a key coalition promise.