Monday, May 27, 2024

Mass Tefillah Gathering Called for Sunday in Yerushalayim

The eternal words of Esther Hamalkah in the Megillah, “Leich kenos es kol haYehudim,” have been reverberating across the Jewish world, as the gedolim of Eretz Yisroel called for a mass prayer rally this Sunday, the first day of Rosh Chodesh Adar II, in light of the decision by the Knesset's Shivyon BanetelCommittee to pass into law criminal sanctions and jail time for bochurim who learn in yeshiva and do join the Israeli army.

Tragically, this kinnus is designed not for tefillos that the designs of evil gentiles should fail, but that the plans of Jewish legislators to hamper Torah study should fail.

The decision to hold a massive rally at the entrance of Yerushalayim was made at an unprecedented joint meeting of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Degel HaTorah and Agudas Yisroel and the Moetzet Chachmei HaTorah of Shas. The meeting took place Monday evening in Bnei Brak.


Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman said at the meeting that “chillul Hashem is a worse sin than avodah zarah, for which we are obligated to give up our lives rather than transgress.


“Everyone knows that there is no greater chillul Hashem than to be rodef those who learn Torah, because Torah and Klal Yisroel are one and the same, and Yisroel and Oraisa and Kudsha Brich Hu are also chad. If there is no Torah, the world will be destroyed. Our tachlis is to learn Torah, and there is nothing worse than to disrupt those who learn Torah.


“This is our life, the life of Klal Yisroel from the time of Matan Torah until this very day… May Hakadosh Boruch Hu ensure that all those who wish to impede this will fail, and that we will merit to be saved from them, and to learn Torah and more Torah.”


The meeting opened with the recitation of kappitel 130 of Tehillim for the refuah sheleimah of Rav Nissim Karelitz led by Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein. Addresses were then delivered by Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, Rav Sholom Cohen, the Vizhnitzer Rebbe and Rav Shimon Baadani.


A statement issued after the meeting expressed that the gathering should bring about a Kiddush Hashem to counteract the chillul Hashem caused by those who seek to uproot Torah. The statement ended with an expression of hope that our Heavenly Father will accept the tefillos and have mercy on His people.


There are no speeches scheduled for the “Million Man Atzeres” to be held this Sunday. Rather, Tehillim will be recited by the massive crowd of bochurim, yungeleit and chovevei Torah from all across the country. The recitation of Tehillim will be led by Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi and Rav Reuvein Elbaz.


The Shaked Shivyon Banetel Committee sparked an explosion by abruptly approving the controversial criminal sanctions for bochurim who fail to enlist. Should the bill pass, failure of yeshivos to reach annual quotas of enlistment of their students will result in the jailing of yeshiva bochurim.


Allegedly, Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu was a major instigator of the sudden decision. Backtracking on his assurance that he does “not believe we will reach a situation where someone will sit in jail for studying the Torah,” he suddenly instructed committee head MK Ayelet Shaked of Bayit Yehudi to stop trying to reach an arrangement with the chareidim and instead introduce the criminality clause.


United as one, the three Mo’atzos Gedolei Hatorahof Degel Hatorah, Agudas Yisroel and Shas met in Bnei Brak and issued a ringing condemnation of the committee’s decision. They called upon bnei yeshivos to boycott the IDF draft.




MKs Meir Porush and Moshe Gafni of UTJ and MK Ariel Atias of Shas immediately resigned from the Shaked committee when they heard of Netanyahu’s order and were absent when MKs voted on the criminalization bill. The vote was not unanimous. MK Elazar Stern of Hatnuah and MK Omer Bar-Lev of Labor opposed criminal sanctions, MK Shaked of Bayit Yehudi led the discussion but was not a partner in the voting process, and MK Moti Yogev of Bayit Yehudi filed a successful appeal to revote the criminal clause, calling it “a stupid law” that would only decrease chareidi enlistment.


Despite earlier insistence that there would be no shivyon banetel law that did not apply to Arabs as well, Yisroel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman seemingly forgot this requirement and supported the law.


Apparently, Netanyahu’s change of heart was in response to Lapid’s threat to leave the coalition unless the criminal sanctions clause was approved. Reportedly, Netanyahu also acted fast in order to prevent the chareidim from cutting a deal with Bayit Yehudi. The idea was that in return for chareidim voting against a move to increase Hesder army service from 16 to 24 months, Bayit Yehudi would vote against the chareidi criminalization clause.


A third theory suggests that Netanyahu voted for the clause in return for Lapid promising to support the nomination of Netanyahu’s crony, Tzachi Hanegbi of Likud, as head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.


Admitting that the law “was far from being perfect,” Netanyahu said, “Regarding the question of what is better, no law or an imperfect law, I prefer that there’s a law.” 




Chareidi headlines screamed in protest: “An Eternal Disgrace: Torah Students in Israel to be Sent to Jail,” “Netanyahu, Lapid and Bennett Declared War on Torah Students,” “Persecution of the Torah World Hits a New High,” and “I and My People Have Been Sold!”


President Shimon Peres also condemned the clause, saying, “I would not include this issue in criminal affairs.” 


Chareidi MKs lambasted the politicians who betrayed the Torah cause.


“The Likud under Netanyahu, as well as the Lapid and Bennett brothers, have declared war on Torah students and will be remembered with infamy as those who caused Israel to be the only state where laws are made to throw Torah scholars into jail,” said MK Meir Porush of UTJ. “Harsh decrees like these, which we recall from the dark periods of Jewish history, will lead to unending turbulence in Jewish centers throughout the world. Chareidi Judaism will arise as one against its enemies and we will prevail.”


“Netanyahu is a rag,” MK Meir Porush of UTJ accused, saying that Netanyahu personally told him there would be no criminal sanctions. “Twice, he was elected and received government control because of chareidi support. This week it was shown that he’s not a decent person. He’s an ingrate.”


Porush added that chareidi MKs will deny support to any Likud candidates for the presidency.


Together with other opposition members, chareidi MKs also plan to filibuster the Knesset readings of the draft law.




Yair Lapid made the most of the victory. His party handed out packages of wet wipes emblazoned with the slogan, “When the chareidim enlist, you’ll sweat less.”


At a press conference, Lapid announced, “Zionism has returned and brought back [army] unit pride along with it.


“Little more than a year ago in the midst of the elections, we promised that if you vote for us there would be daylight savings time, that we would not sit [in government] with the chareidim, and that there would be shivyon banetel and the chareidim would enlist and go to work like every other youngster, for the Israel public can no longer carry the chareidim on its back,” he said. “People said we didn’t know what we were talking about. A year passed and now the things we spoke of are a reality.


“Last night, the equal sharing of the burden law was passed by the Knesset committee. A historic, legal mistake that went on for 65 years was corrected, because we remained steadfast and stuck to our guns. Everyone will go to Bakum [IDF induction offices], serve either military or civilian service, and afterwards join the job market and make a living for themselves and their families. It won’t happen in three or four years, but next month. Starting next month, every young man in Bnei Brak will receive a draft notice, without exception.


“Starting next month, after the bill passes its second and third readings, tens of thousands of chareidim will enter the job market, after being imprisoned until now in the yeshivos, living at our expense. Within three years, seventy percent of young chareidim will be drafted. No more evasions, no more draft dodgers, either secular or religious.”


Few agreed with Lapid’s grandiose facts and figures. The Shivyon Banetel Forum said that Lapid was grossly off the mark, announcing, “Lapid thinks we’re all stupid. How can he say that every 18-year-old will be drafted, when just yesterday a bill was passed with just the opposite result?”


Moshe Gafni, too, said that Lapid’s remarks were way off the mark.


“We’re not sorry at all,” he said in reference to the failure of chareidi members of the Shaked committee to avert the evil decree. “We would have gone through the process of participating in the Shaked committee if we were at the beginning of the road. What we’ve achieved is that until July 2017, in another three-and-a-half years, there is no draft at all. Not only no draft, but all the 30,000 [bochurim now older than 22] will receive an exemption. Furthermore, in fact, until June 2018 nothing will actually happen. We’re talking of a period of 4 and a half years when nothing will happen to anyone who wants to study Torah.


“I suggest looking two years backward,” he added. “All that time there was no [exemption] law and the obligatory draft law and criminality threat hung over whoever didn’t enlist. In fact, nothing happened. So we’re speaking of six-and-a-half years when nothing happened to yeshiva students. All this can’t be taken for granted and it happened because we sat with them and acted like nice guys.


“Lapid’s declaration that army call ups will be issued in another month is false,” Gafni added. “The people he’s speaking of won’t be enlisted until the middle of 2018 if they study Torah. Even then, if the quotas are filled, they won’t have to enlist. Anyone who’s 18 doesn’t have any obligation to enlist at all until he’s 21. I’m not blackening the picture or whitewashing it. I am just describing the law as it exists.”


Gafni and MK Aryeh Deri of Shas were initially leery of the large protest rally, fearing that a huge public reaction to Lapid’s threat might add a feather to his cap by appearing to magnify the catastrophe to larger proportions than it really is. But Gafni pointed out that the chillul Hashem involved in locking up Torah students who want to learn simply cannot be ignored.


Opposition Leader MK Isaac Herzog of Labor also said Lapid was dreaming.


“The new draft law represents virtual equality,” he said. “The chareidim will not be drafted into the army, yeshiva students [who do serve] will serve less than 18 months while being afforded vast financial benefits, and the rest of the population will continue to serve three years and shoulder most of the burden.”


Former Chief Rabbi of the IDF Rav Avichai Ronzki insisted no bochur will ever end up going to prison.


“The IDF is not going to send officers to Ponovezh to find draft-dodgers,” he insisted. “It would not be practical and anyone with half a brain can understand that. I believe that, at the end of the day, no criminal sanctions will be enacted. We are talking about something which is only a formal declaration. No one will go to jail. This is only a move to gain political capital by Yesh Atid.”


All that didn’t matter to Lapid, who is desperate for victory at any cost.




Although less boastful than his henchman Lapid, Naftali Bennett is glad the die was cast.


“The Israeli public has won,” he said. “We have known, for decades, that we have to find a way to integrate the chareidim into the workforce and into the military. The current government is the only one that has been able to do so. The bill passed by the Shaked committee is smart and balanced.”


In stark contrast, some fifty heads of local Bayit Yehudi branches wrote a letter decrying criminal sanctions and warning that turning Torah students into criminals is a fundamental problem that will tear the nation into two.


“Torah study is the secret of our survival as a nation,” they wrote. “Torah students in both Zionist and chareidi yeshivos are carrying this torch. There are partners in the coalition leading a position that opposes everything that is sacred in the country. They are also acting to hurt the chareidi public in every area it treasures… We know from history that anti-Torah coercion has distanced the chareidim from participation in the state. This sort of thing will certainly not draw them close. True changes come through dialogue and not through force.”


A number of religious Zionist rabbonim expressed interest in participating in the million man rally planned for next week.


As mentioned at the beginning of this report, MK Moti Yogev of Bayit Yehudi opposed the criminality clause and demanded a revote, which is expected soon. Other Bayit Yehudi MKs who protested the anti-yeshiva crusade include MK Yoni Chetboun and MK Uri Ariel.


“As long as a yeshiva student is studying Torah, there is no chance he will be drafted. Take my word for it,” Ariel said. “From a pragmatic day-to-day aspect, they [the IDF] will not call any student from any yeshiva. Those who aren’t studying will have to enlist and those are studying won’t.”


Deputy Minister of Defense Danny Danon of Likud insisted that Bennett, not Netanyahu, was the main factor behind the success of Lapid’s bid to lock up yeshiva bochurim who don’t serve.


“The criminal sanctions would not have passed were it not for the alliance between Bayit Yehudi and Yesh Atid,” he said. “Don’t let anyone tell you excuses. If Bayit Yehudi had said they wouldn’t vote for criminal sanctions, they wouldn’t have passed… If it’s really important to them, I call upon them to join me in next week’s revote and together we’ll fight against Yesh Atid’s demand to introduce a sanctions law. At the party meeting last week, the prime minister said that Torah students would not be declared criminals in the State of Israel. The Likud doesn’t want criminal sanctions. Bayit Yehudi are the ones who made an agreement with Lapid’s party.


“This law is unequal in any case, because it does not include minorities [Arabs],” Danon added. “When I raised the issue with the committee members, they claimed they couldn’t touch it, because it is a sensitive topic. And I ask, [why] does this sensitivity disappear…when it comes to recruiting chareidim? It would be interesting to know how Bayit Yehudi would react to this. Do they deny the promises they made just before the elections [to enlist Arabs]? To appease Lapid, did they forgo this as well?


“Aside from this, I and other Likud MKs will not vote in favor of criminal sanctions for yeshiva students. As deputy minister of defense, I can say with certainty that in its present state, the law will not advance the integration of yeshiva students into the IDF, but do the opposite. The only benefit from this law is the headlines Lapid is trying to create on the backs of the chareidim. The press conference he had immediately after the conference was full of bombastic statements with nothing behind them.”


Danon also sent a letter to the Shaked committee demanding that the draft law apply equally to the Arab population.


“If the committee does not include everyone in the law, including the minorities in Israel, it will not be doing its job. It will harm the principle of equality and it will bring shame upon its name as a committee dealing with equal civic responsibility,” he wrote. “We all must contribute, either via army service or via civilian national service. I call upon you to make amends before the committee’s work is completed.”


Rav Shmuel Boruch Genut, a confidant of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, reported that when the Religious Zionists asked for the chareidim’s help at the time of the Gaza disengagement, Rav Chaim said that although one should be concerned about and daven for the welfare of every Jew in Eretz Yisroel, it should be kept in mind that the Mizrachi never really helped during any spiritual struggle fought by the chareidi public in Eretz Yisroel.


This week, Rav Chaim told Rav Genut, “You should know that my uncle, the Chazon Ish, already said, ‘With the secular Jews we could manage, but the Mizrachi always ruin everything. All the troubles come because of their actions.’”




Unprecedentedly, as reported earlier, the three Mo’atzos Gedolei HaTorah of Degel Hatorah, Agudas Yisroel and Shas held a united conference at the Vizhnitz Hotel in Bnei Brak, where they condemned the government’s draft coercion and instructed bnei Torah to boycott army enlistment, striking a fatal blow at the government’s attempt to increase yeshiva student involvement with the IDF. Outside the hotel, thousands of bnei Torah gathered in honor of the important conference.


First to speak at the conference was Rav Shteinman, who decried the terrible chillul Hashem embodied in criminal sanctions.


“The whole purpose of existence is to study Torah and there is nothing worse than harassing those involved in this mitzvah. This is our life, the life of Klal Yisroel in all generations from the time the Torah was given until today. We must know that there is nothing except Torah. This is our life!


“May Hashem help that all those who harass Torah study do not succeed. May we merit to be saved from their plans and continue to devote even more time to studying the glorious Torah.”


Rav Shalom Cohen of the Shas Moetzessaid that the danger hanging over the heads of Sefardi bnei Torah is even greater.


“All the Sefardim are like hanefesh asher asu beChoron [the people Avrohom and Sarah saved from spiritual destruction],” he said. “I know from my yeshiva that many talmidim’s parents want them to go to the army. They don’t understand anything. If their sons were not close to their rabbonim, they would go to the army. The rabbonim watch over them. If they don’t do something and announce that there should be no army [enlistment] at all, it won’t work, chas vesholom.


“The media incites against the bnei yeshivos. This influences Sefardim. Our community may be the hardest hit from this decree. We must learn from hanefesh asher asu beChoron and draw as many people to Torah as we possibly can. I request that a decision be issued from here that there be no army [enlistment] and nothing [else]. Their money doesn’t interest us. We are only interested in Torah.”


The Vizhnitzer Rebbe emphasized the importance of putting up a united resistance to the draft law.


“The posuk says, ‘Yisroel encamped there opposite the mountain,’ and Chazal explain, ‘Like one person, with one heart.’ The goal is unity,” he said. “I think that the many rebbes and rabbonim present here must unitedly, publicly, and clearly announce that we will not enlist at all. We have nothing to do with the army, nothing at all. This is the message that must come out from here. If we all unite, with Hashem’s help we will persevere and merit the coming of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, soon in our days.”


At the end of the meeting, the joint decisions of the three Mo’atzos Gedolei Hatorahwas announced:


“This is not a time to keep silent. Under the prime minister’s directive, a plot has arisen among the authorities to rebel against Hashem’s Malchus. Their intention is to uproot the Torah and to impart criminal sanctions upon those [for whom] Torah is their livelihood to the extent of throwing them into prison.


“We tremble at the terrible chillul Hashem and humiliation of the Torah this entails. We are fearful of what may result, and pained at the continued attacks directed against the Torah world and the unending attempts to put obstacles in their path. In light of this, we have decided as follows:


1. The Moetzes Gedolei Vechachmei HaTorahdemands that the government immediately annul the decisions of the committee that seeks the coercive draft of talmidei yeshivos and kollelim. We call upon all bnei yeshivos and kollelim not to enlist in the army under any circumstance, not be persuaded by any blandishment or punishment, and not to participate in the army’s plan to set up a central sorting center for chareidi [IDF inductees], but instead to continue studying Torah day and night.


2. If, chas veshalom, those who persecute religion enact their plots and make a coercive enlistment law, the Mo’atzos Gedolei Vechachmei HaTorahwill convene to make plans against them and their plots, and consider forbidding  visiting army induction centers [even to merely receive deferments].


3. The Mo’atzos Gedolei Vechachmei HaTorahdemand that the government cease persecuting the Torah world and instead help the growth of Torah and chinuch institutions in the Holy Land in the path forged by our forefathers.


4. The Mo’atzos Gedolei Vechachmei HaTorahturn to the Jewish peoplewith this message: ‘Nothing is left to us but this Torah.’ Torah study and fulfilling its mitzvos in holiness and purity are a defending wall for the Jewish people against every distress and tribulation wherever they live. This is a protection from public and private, physical and spiritual difficulties that oppress them in all the places they dwell. We must hugely increase Torah study and the holy performance of its mitzvos, and the precise performance of every detail of halachah.


5. The Mo’atzos Gedolei Vechachmei HaTorahcall upon our Jewish brothers in every place they dwell, in Eretz Yisroeland abroad, to grasp the skill of our forefathers [prayer]. All Jews must gather, men and children, to cry out and plea to our Father in Heaven to have mercy upon us as a father spares his children. We hereby announce that those who fear Hashem’s word will gather at a rally of prayer and outcry and mass protest… This will be a kiddush Hashem to counteract thechillul Hashem made by those who plot to uproot religion.


As a result of the meeting, Uri Regev, director of the Chiddush Organization which constantly appeals against the rights of bnei yeshivos in the High Court, mocked Lapid, saying, “The heads of Yesh Atid succeeded in recording a historic achievement in uniting the Mo’atzosagainst enlistment. The achievement is especially impressive given that even the chareidi politicians know there is no chance that the law will be implemented.” 




If the new bill is passed, chareidim will be eligible for the draft at 21 but be able to defer the draft annually until they reach 26. At the same time, the quota of chareidim expected to enlist will rise annually (3,800 in 2015, 4,500 in 2016) until 2017, when action will be taken. If 5,200 chareidim fail to enlist in 2017 (3,200 in the IDF and 2,000 in national service), after a six-month grace period, yeshiva students refusing to fill the quota will be liable for arrest.


Truth be told, filling the quota in 2017 would not be all that difficult, since by then, the pool of deferred yeshiva students ages 18-26 may rise to as many as 50,000 and some 2,000 chareidim already enlist every year. As for the quota of 2,000 for national service, close to 2,000 chareidim already belong to volunteer organizations such as Ezer Mitzion, United Hatzalah and Magen Dovid Edom.


The difficulty would be meeting the quota after 2017. Of some 8,000 bochurim reaching military age every year, 5,200 bochurim would have to be inducted into the IDF and national service every year indefinitely. Eventually, this would entail forcing over half of the yeshiva world out of learning and into the army.


However, due to chareidi influence in the Shaked committee, it is by no means certain that a quota of 5,200 will ever exist.


Due to the insistence of legal experts, the 5,200 quota will be filled not only by full-time yeshiva students, but also by bochurim learning in yeshiva while studying matriculation or other subjects on the side. Thus, the quota will include yeshiva graduates who did matriculation and chareidi technological institutes, as well as Religious Zionists who studied in chareidi institutions, baalei teshuvah, and others. The committee considered erasing this leniency from the law but was warned by the law ministry that without the lenient clause, the law would run into legal quicksand.


It should also be kept in mind that much to Lapid’s chagrin, a clause was slipped in giving the government the right to lower the quota to whatever number it sees fit. Since elections are due in January 2017, by the time the quota becomes an issue, Lapid may have been thrown out into the wilderness and the chareidim may have rejoined the coalition.If that happens, chareidim could engineer a lowering of the quota or even rewrite the yeshiva draft law altogether.



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