The head of the Satmar Hassidic sect has accused his followers of increasingly admiring Israel for its military and political accomplishments, imploring them to maintain the Hasidic group’s hardline anti-Zionism.
Addressing thousands of Satmar members at Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum lamented what he called a “tremendous and terrible spiritual decline” among his followers.
“According to the rumors I heard, [people] are excitedly talking about the news of [the Israelis’] accomplishments, how smart they are, how they succeed politically and militarily, and about their heads of government,” Teitelbaum told the crowd in an address in Yiddish on Sunday, according to a Hebrew translation from the Kann public broadcaster.
“We must yell gevalt, gevalt! To where have we come?” he declared. “We have no part in Zionism. We have no part in their wars. We have no part in the State of Israel.”
The Satmar, one of the largest Hasidic groups in the world, is staunchly anti-Zionist and does not recognize the State of Israel, maintaining a Jewish state should not exist until the Messiah appears.
“We’ll continue to fight God’s war against Zionism and all its aspects,” Teitelbaum said.
The Satmar rabbi also spoke out against draft legislation regarding military service for ultra-Orthodox seminary students in Israel.
“We declare there can be no compromise,” he said. “We won’t agree to any compromise regarding the [military] draft law for yeshiva students.”
Teitelbaum’s remarks came as the coalition is haggling over legislation addressing mandatory military service for ultra-Orthodox seminary students.
Earlier this week, the head of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party gave an “unequivocal” ultimatum that his faction will bolt the government if legislation is not passed in the next seven weeks exempting members of his community from mandatory military service.
Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman’s threat, not his first of this nature, comes ahead of a September deadline set by the High Court of Justice for the Knesset to re-legislate a previous exemption that the court disqualified on the grounds that it violated principles of equality.
In September 2017, the High Court of Justice struck down a law exempting ultra-Orthodox men engaged in religious study from military service, saying it undermined the principle of equality before the law. However, the court suspended its decision for a year to allow for a new arrangement to be put in place, giving the government the option to pass a new law.
After a similar ultimatum was made by UTJ during the Knesset’s winter session, coalition partners reached a last-minute deal to cooperate on the contentious issue in order to reach an agreement before the deadline. But a compromise agreement still remains elusive, with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman vowing that his staunchly secular Yisrael Beytenu party would not fold in the face of demands made by their ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.
While the issue of ultra-Orthodox enlistment has long been a contentious one in Israel — revolving around a decades-old debate as to whether young ultra-Orthodox men studying in yeshivas, or seminaries, should be called up for compulsory military service like the rest of Israel’s Jewish population — months of sporadic street protests have recently been organized by the so-called Jerusalem Faction, which refuses to have any connection with the military.
Although ultra-Orthodox Israelis are exempted from enlistment, they are required to report to enlistment offices in order to sign a deferral of service, which Jerusalem Faction rabbinic leaders order their students not to do. The protests, usually focused in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and Beit Shemesh, have led to violent clashes with police.
Ultra-Orthodox seminary students have been largely exempt from Israel’s military draft since then-defense minister David Ben-Gurion exempted 400 students from service in 1949 on the grounds that “their studies are their craft.”