Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood on Tuesday to protest against recruitment to the Israeli army and to express their opposition to new amendments to the contentious Equal Service law.
Several protesters clashed with police, who in turn sprayed tear gas at the group that confronted them, the Walla news site reported.
In late November, the Knesset approved an amendment to the Equal Service law, which dramatically rolled back the 2014 reforms on ultra-Orthodox recruitment into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and scrapped the communal penalties imposed if annual quotas for ultra-orthodox soldiers were not met.
But some ultra-Orthodox leaders have said the changes do not go far enough and have claimed the United Torah Judaism party, which now sits in the government, has in effect agreed to the principle of Haredi enlistment by accepting the amendments.
As part of the changes, the transition period before the law goes into effect were extended from 2017 to 2020, with an additional second-tier transition period through 2023.
According to the organizers of Tuesday’s protests, the new version of the law does not cancel the communal penalties but merely pushes them off until 2023.
The ultra-Orthodox community has historically enjoyed blanket exemptions from the army for Torah study.
In 1998, the Supreme Court ruled that the defense minister was not authorized to exempt what had swelled to some tens of thousands of students, and said any arrangement on army enlistment must be anchored in law and handled by Israel’s parliament.
Following the Supreme Court ruling, the Knesset passed the Tal Law as a five-year interim law, under which yeshiva students were eligible to receive yearly deferments and exemptions from army service.
In 2006, the Supreme Court upheld the contentious law, while noting that it compromised Israel’s equality. A year later, the Knesset extended the Tal Law by five years. The Supreme Court later ruled that the law was unconstitutional.
The striking of the Tal Law led to the 2014 enlistment legislation, which is also pending a petition in the High Court.