Seven arrested as ultra-Orthodox block entrance to Jerusalem
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Seven arrested as ultra-Orthodox block entrance to Jerusalem

Hundreds demonstrate in run-up to military trial of Torah student accused of evading draft

Police arrest an ultra-Orthodox Jewish protester during continuing riots in Jerusalem against the detention of a Torah student for failing to turn up for army conscription. March 20, 2017 (YouTube screenshot)
Police arrest an ultra-Orthodox Jewish protester during continuing riots in Jerusalem against the detention of a Torah student for failing to turn up for army conscription. March 20, 2017 (YouTube screenshot)

Ultra-Orthodox Jews managed Monday to temporarily block the entrance to Jerusalem in a protest organized ahead of the military trial of a religious student accused of evading the draft.

Seven protesters were detained for disturbing the peace near the Sakharov Gardens entrance to the capital, Channel 2 News reported.

Hundreds of demonstrators, who are continuing days of protests at various locations, also briefly managed to stop traffic on the Jaffa Road, a main downtown thoroughfare in the capital.

Military prosecutors have recommended a three and half month jail term for the student, Yisrael Meir Toledano, who was arrested at his home in the southern city of Ofakim eight days ago.

Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, the leader of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem, is behind the calls to take to the streets to demonstrate.

Auerbach leads a splinter faction opposed to the authority of the Lithuanian community’s principal leader, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman.

Monday’s protests in Jerusalem followed demonstrations by hundreds on Sunday in the ultra-Orthodox stronghold of Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, and in the central city of Ramat Gan, where protesters gathered outside the home of Yaakov Rashi, a senior figure in the drafting of ultra-Orthodox soldiers into the army, the Nrg website reported.

Five were arrested during what police described as violent behavior.

That protest was also fueled by the sentencing of another ultra-Orthodox deserter from a well-connected Jerusalem family to 20 days in military jail, Channel 2 News said.

A statement from the Committee to Save the World of Torah said that all attempts to use “brutality” against Torah students by detaining them for lengthy periods or giving them jail terms would be met with courage by other Torah students who were “ready to give their lives.” The protests would continue until all those under arrest left prison and returned to their “natural place” in the study hall, the statement added.

Last week, ultra-Orthodox Jews demonstrated in several cities to call for Toledano’s release.

A week ago, effigies of religious soldiers in army uniform were hung in one Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood in a move police described as incitement.

An effigy of a religious soldier in the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim on March 13, 2017. (Police Spokesperson)
An effigy of a religious soldier in the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim on March 13, 2017. (Police Spokesperson)

Ultra-Orthodox Jews represent about 10 percent of the Israeli population and live in compliance with a strict interpretation of Jewish laws.

Some of them view military service as a source of temptation for young people who then leave the closed world of prayer and religious study.

The ultra-Orthodox are exempt from serving if they are studying in religious schools known as yeshivas, although the issue is controversial for secular Israelis, and attempts have been made to remove the exemption.

Either way, ultra-Orthodox students called to the draft must register at the recruitment office.

Some extremist rabbis, among them Auerbach, prohibit their followers from even registering and they are then considered deserters.

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