US Orthodox groups condemn violence in Israel against ultra-Orthodox soldiers

Three organizations slam religious extremists who assault Haredi members of security forces over objections to their enlistment

Illustrative: Soldiers of the IDF's ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda Battalion study at the Peles Military Base, in the northern Jordan Valley. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)
Illustrative: Soldiers of the IDF's ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda Battalion study at the Peles Military Base, in the northern Jordan Valley. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

Orthodox Jewish organizations in the United States have condemned attacks by ultra-Orthodox extremists against religious Jews in Israel who join the country’s security forces.

Amid a recent rise in attacks on IDF soldiers and police officers, the leaders of the Orthodox Union, Rabbinical Council of America and National Council of Young Israel issued official statements condemning the violence.

The statements were issued at the request of New York Orthodox activist David Nyer, he said in a news release sent to JTA.

Moishe Bane, president of the Orthodox Union, said in a statement that “violence by one Jew against another, whether physical or otherwise, is an assault on the Torah values that have been passed down through our [tradition], from generation to generation. Any such attack by Jews against soldiers of the IDF, to whom every Jew owes immeasurable respect and gratitude, is an attack against each and every member of the Jewish community, and provokes shame and regret in us all.”

The RCA’s executive vice president, Rabbi Mark Dratch, said: “These attacks against both Israeli soldiers and police are violations of Jewish law and show a gross lack of appreciation and respect for those who defend all the citizens of the State of Israel. These attacks further divide and alienate segments of the Jewish community from each other and from Torah.”

A firefighter takes down a large doll dressed as an ultra-Orthodox Jewish soldier hung in the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim, on March 13, 2017. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Last week, a religious soldier and his family in the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem were pelted with stones and had to be evacuated by police. In February, an Orthodox soldier was attacked after stopping to pray at a synagogue in a Jerusalem neighborhood. In January, a soldier was taken to the hospital after being hit with stones while driving through the ultra-Orthodox-dominated of Ramat Beit Shemesh, west of the cpaital.

Some Haredi sects consider it a sacrilege for religious Jews to serve in the police or military.

Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman for Agudath Israel of America, told Nyer that “such unwarranted violence and abuse against any fellow Jew is beyond outrageous. Assault of Jewish brethren, especially those who have dedicated themselves to the protection of [Israel] such as IDF soldiers and Israeli police, is indefensible, ugly and wrong.”

Shafran added that bystanders are obligated to intervene to help the person under attack.

The issue of ultra-Orthodox enlistment has 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. After reaching the age of 18, men must serve for 32 months and women for 24.

Ultra-Orthodox Israelis, who for decades enjoyed a blanket exemption from army service, oppose what they say is the IDF’s lax observance of Jewish laws. Recent attempts to cater to ultra-Orthodox recruits have been met with some success, rising from some 300 ultra-Orthodox enlistees each year a decade ago to some 3,000 last year. But many ultra-Orthodox soldiers still face harassment, threats, and assault when they go home on leave to Haredi neighborhoods.

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