Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

New York’s Ultra Orthodox Protest Israeli Draft

Following last week’s protest in Jerusalem, the Haredi community in New York shut down Manhattan in a showing of solidarity

By: Graham Sigurdson

Published: March 10th, 2014 in News » World

On Sunday, thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested Israeli’s new proposal that would see the drafting of haredi citizens into the military.

The protest took place in lower Manhattan and went on to fill 10 blocks. The dark-clothed Haredi stood behind police barricades along with high security and kept with tradition by having the men and women protest in separate groups. The protest follows a similar one held last week in Jerusalem, where ultra-Orthodox Jews filled the streets, blocking roads and crippling the city.

Shmuel Gruis, a young haredi man, spoke of those who would be affected by the draft, saying that “These kids, a lot of them don’t know how to hold a gun. They don’t know what physical warfare is. Their whole world and their whole lifestyle is peace and love and in doing mitzvahs. You take a bunch of kids out of the environment where they come from – in my eyes, it’s wrong.”

The Knesset is expected to vote on the bill later in March, and while conscription would not go into full effect until 2017, it potentially imposes criminal sanctions on ultra-Orthodox Jews who become draft dodgers. That said, yeshiva students would be allowed to defer their service until they were 26.

At the event on Sunday, some 50,000 members of New York’s most orthodox communities took part. “We’re all united against military service for religious men in Israel because it doesn’t allow for religious learning. The Israeli government is looking to destroy religious society and make the country into a secular melting pot,” said Peggy Blier, an interior designer from Brooklyn.

The issue of a draft for the ultra-Orthodox comes as another challenge for Israel, where cultural debates over their place in modern Israeli society continue to arise. Since 1948, the ultra-Orthodox haven been allowed to avoid the normally compulsory military service that Jewish men must undertake. Instead, the ultra-Orthodox, who make up some 8% of the nation’s population, pursue their religious studies, with older men collecting welfare stipends while they study full time.

The ultra-Orthodox argue that instead of serving through military service, their young men “Serve the nation through prayer and study,” maintaining Jewish heritage and a way of life that has kept the culture alive.

Secular Israelis are understandably unhappy with the current situation, saying that the ultra-Orthodox are not performing a fair share. As such, last year’s election saw the establishment of a center-right government which has pushed for reforms that would require ultra-Orthodox to serve in the military.

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