An ultra-Orthodox newspaper has asserted that the kidnapping of three Israeli youths by terrorists was a punishment from God for the government’s enactment of legislation that would see a larger number of Haredi yeshiva students inducted into the army.
The Yated Ne’eman daily, considered a mouthpiece for the Israeli ultra-Orthodox community of Lithuanian descent, made the connection between the universal draft law and the West Bank abductions in an editorial published on Wednesday.
Describing ultra-Orthodox students as “soldiers” whose service consists of studying Torah at yeshivas (“bases”), the editorial condemned the national draft for disrupting ultra-Orthodox life.
“When the government tries to execute the systematic kidnapping of Torah students from their places of learning, when it tries to kidnap soldiers from their bases and to diminish the only army that truly protects [Israel], the land’s stomach churns and it wants to vomit them out,” the editorial said.
Although the author admitted that God works in mysterious ways that “we cannot calculate,” it was unequivocal in blaming the government for bringing disaster on the country.
“When the government tries to reduce the numbers of Torah students, when it passes a draconian law aimed at reducing and criminalizing those who sit on the learning benches, it lays the country open to calamities,” the piece read.
The editorial asserted that the true defense of Israel lies not with the IDF but with yeshiva students who dedicate their time to studying the Torah in religious seminaries.
“What really protects the people living here is the Torah,” it said. “Torah protects and saves. Those who are really protecting the land and the people in it from the threat of swords are the Torah students.”
The writer concluded by urging intense prayer, good deeds, and Torah study to merit the safe return of Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gil-ad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, who were kidnapped last Thursday night while hitchhiking south of Jerusalem.
The issue of military service is at the core of a cultural and political war over the place of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israeli society today. Israel recently passed a contentious law to gradually increase ultra-Orthodox enlistment, but Haredi leaders have vowed to resist the new law.
Separately, the hardline rabbi of the Kiryat Araba settlement, Dov Lior, also suggested that offense to religious traditions may be the reason for God having afflicted Israel with the kidnappings.
In a letter posted to his Facebook page on Wednesday, Lior wrote that Israelis should contemplate how their slackening religious observance brought punishment upon the nation. He also accused the government of enacting policies that led to the kidnapping.
“To our chagrin, we have been witnessing a serious deterioration in the government’s attitude toward the state’s Jewish character,” he said. “There is an barrage of laws whose common denominator is to damage and chip away at the Jewish character of our public life.”
Lior went on to allege that laws “that harm the structure of the family unit” or aim to reform the process of converting to Judaism were part of a deliberate attempt “to obfuscate the uniqueness of the Jewish nation and turn it into [a nation] like all the gentiles.”
Meretz party chairwoman MK Zahav Gal-on blasted Lior’s comments as “ugly incitement.”
“It’s nice to know that the holy rabbi has opened a direct line of communication to God and can read his thoughts,” she said in a post on her own Facebook page. “If he can truly connect with the higher powers in such an intimate way then perhaps he can do us all a favor at the same time and also ask where the kidnapped [youths] are being held.
“Until Lior can bring us something useful from heaven he should keep his ugly incitement to himself,” she concluded.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.