Shas spiritual leader calls on Haredim to emigrate rather than join army

‘We are surrounded by haters,’ says former chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, referring to those who want to draft yeshiva students

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, said that in order to prevent Haredi yeshiva students from being forced into military or national service, they may have no choice but to leave the country.

“God forbid, we will be compelled to leave the land of Israel…in order to free the yeshiva students” from being drafted, Yosef said during a sermon last week.

Yosef added that “we are surrounded by haters… by enemies… by evildoers who despise the Torah.” He blasted Israeli politicians who call for the drafting of ultra-Orthodox young men. “When will [our yeshiva students] be great scholars if they are drafted into the military?”

The idea of Haredim serving alongside the general population has long been a thorn in secular-Orthodox relations within Israeli society.

Last February, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the Tal Law, which granted sweeping exemptions from military or national service to ultra-Orthodox Israelis.

Following the ruling, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the Knesset would draft a revised, more equitable law within months.

In July, Netanyahu disbanded a committee headed by Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner that was seeking to draft a resolution to the issue, after some right-wing legislators resigned from the panel, citing its failure to institute a universal draft for Arab citizens as well as ultra-Orthodox.

Saying that adherents of the Torah are “in grave danger,” Yosef said that in the upcoming Israeli elections, slated for January 22, voters must “open [their] heart[s] and vote for the ultra-Orthodox parties” in order to prevent the enlistment of yeshiva students.

The rabbi further warned of the consequences awaiting anyone who voted for a nonreligious party.

“On Judgment Day, God will accuse them, saying, ‘You abandoned my Torah in the hands of the evildoers… who hate the Torah,” he said.

Not all ultra-Orthodox Israelis agree with Yosef’s stance against equal service for all citizens. On Sunday, dozens of ultra-Orthodox arrived at the headquarters of the National Service Administration in Jerusalem to enlist in the national service corps.

According to a Government Press Office statement, over 2,000 ultra-Orthodox men currently serve in the civil service corps, and of the men who have served to date, some 85 percent were afterward successfully integrated in the workforce.

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