Haredi minister upbraids national religious for opposing military draft exemptions

Speaking at flagship yeshiva of religious Zionist movement, Meir Porush says it ‘is not appropriate to criticize the order of our conduct’

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Jewish Heritage Meir Porush seen during a government conference at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Jewish Heritage Meir Porush seen during a government conference at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Addressing students at the flagship yeshiva of the religious Zionist movement on Wednesday, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Meir Porush condemned members of the more modern religious community who criticize the ultra-Orthodox effort to secure widespread military exemptions for their youth.

“I don’t deny the complexities between us, the differences in attitudes, but we need to resolve this between us. On both sides, there are public figures of sufficient stature, who can gather in a room, and reach a proper and respectful solution that preserves the world of Torah and yeshivas,” the senior United Torah Judaism lawmaker declared during a Jerusalem Day speech at Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

“But it is not appropriate for individuals from religious Zionism to criticize our conduct and our policies of continuous Torah study,” he insisted.

He added his best wishes to students of the yeshiva currently serving and engaged in the “battle against the vile murderers” of Hamas.

Haredi women and male yeshiva students are generally exempt from military service due to controversial longstanding arrangements that have generated significant criticism and resentment among the general population.

With the courts deeming those arrangements illegitimate, the government is currently caught in a contentious public dispute over the future of the Haredi draft.

Responding to Porush’s comments, Yehuda Veld, the director general of the Religious Zionism party, tweeted a quote from Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook — the former dean of the yeshiva and the son of its founder — stating that exemptions from army service constituted a “dishonor of the Torah.”

“To come to his yeshiva and speak against him is simply impudence and contempt for scholars,” Veld declared.

In 2017, the High Court of Justice invalidated the Haredi draft exemptions as discriminatory and ordered the government to pass a new conscription law. The government has since been unable to agree on legislation, repeatedly extending the non-conscription policy, while Haredi politicians have sought to pass legislation cementing the exemptions.

On March 28, the High Court ordered the state to cut funding for yeshiva students eligible for the draft who do not enlist as of April 1, prompting Porush to accuse it of “imposing economic sanctions against those who chose to study the Holy Torah.”

“This is a serious violation of our right to exist in the Land of Israel – the highest judicial authority of the State of Israel seeks to throw Torah scholars into prison,” he declared at the time. “We will not put up with this situation and will fight to cancel the decision immediately, along with the effort to quickly regulate the status of yeshiva members so that they can observe the Torah without interruption.”

Students pray at Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem, May 11, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

During a high-stakes hearing Sunday on petitions demanding the immediate conscription of thousands of yeshiva students, a panel of nine High Court justices was sharply and unambiguously critical of the government’s claims that ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students should not be drafted into the army.

The nine justices presiding over the hearing, including conservatives, expressed intense skepticism — bordering at times on anger — toward the claims and remarks of the legal representatives of the government and the state-funded Haredi yeshivas, accusing them of “word games” and “going round in circles,” and even appearing to mock their arguments.

The sharp and at times caustic responses of the justices to the government’s arguments appeared to suggest the court’s patience with the decades-long failure of successive governments to deal with the Haredi enlistment conundrum has run out.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: