Ultra-Orthodox Jews should refrain from dressing up, or dressing their children, as Israeli soldiers for the Jewish holiday of Purim this year, according to an edict issued by ultra-Orthodox community officials.
“We are at a time of [evil] decrees, and dressing up as a soldier in this period does not increase happiness, rather it increases sadness,” Rabbi Mordechai Blau of the ultra-Orthodox group Guardians of Sanctity and Education said, according to a report Wednesday in the Hebrew daily Israel Hayom. “There are children for whom soldiers mean something frightening, like taking their older brother away [to the army].”
“There are other solutions, like American or British soldier costumes,” he added.
Army service by the ultra-Orthodox has been a hot-button topic since a law that granted de-facto blanket exemptions to Haredim was struck down by the High Court of Justice in 2012. The Shaked Committee, led by Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked and tasked with formulating a new law, has been finalizing the details of a new bill to regulate the matter and increase the number of ultra-Orthodox draftees.
The ultra-Orthodox vehemently oppose military service, which they say poses unique challenges to their religious lifestyle. Rabbis fear that service alongside other Israelis could increase the number of Haredim who leave the strict ultra-Orthodox fold in favor of secularism. Over the past year, Haredim have staged multiple demonstrations against the draft.
Recently, Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s decisions to halt to state payments to yeshivas attended by ultra-Orthodox men who refuse to register for the draft sparked protests that turned violent near the central bus station in Jerusalem, among other places. Lapid’s freeze order on the funds came just hours before the cash was due to be paid out.
“The whole concept of Purim costumes is not to be a cheap imitation of the carnivals in Brazil or Venice,” said Blau, the rabbi. “It has a deep meaning that symbolizes that during this period of persecution of the Jews, God was concealed, and the masks are also meant to increase happiness.”
He was referring to Purim, which celebrates the biblical story of the salvation of the Jews during the time of a Persian king Ahasuerus (whom commentators have identified with Xerxes I). The Scroll of Esther, which tells the tale, makes no mention of God and instead ascribes the Jewish people’s deliverance to the maneuverings of Mordechai and Esther in Ahasuerus’s court.
“Right now we are in a period similar to ‘concealment,’ but definitely not of happiness with everything concerning the drafting of Haredim,” he said.
The edict was more than just a publicity stunt, according an ultra-Orthodox political official.
“We are not talking about a foolish initiative,” the anonymous official said. “This is a symptom [of the situation] that shows how much anger there is in the [ultra-Orthodox] sector over the attempts to draft Haredi yeshiva students by force. This is a symbolic act through which many are trying to explain that through compulsion and aggressive legislation [the government] will accomplish only the the opposite [of its intentions] — aversion to the IDF.”