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March 4, 2015 / 13 Adar , 5775
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Thousands of Haredim Protest IDF Draft in Lower Manhattan

To passersby on Sunday, the crowd had a simple message, one that rings sympathetically to American ears.
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Thousands of Haredim protest in Lower Manhattan, June 9, 2013

Thousands of Haredim protest in Lower Manhattan, June 9, 2013
Photo Credit: JTA

Until now, the primary storyline of the religious-secular battles in Israel has been driven by Women of the Wall, the activist group that, with their monthly prayer meetings at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, have brought more attention to the quest for religious equality in Israel than has been seen in years.

But with the massive haredi protest at the Wall last month, and today’s large showing in Lower Manhattan, the haredim have begun to mobilize.

The immediate issue which brought thousands to Foley Square Sunday is the attempt to conscript haredi Orthodox Israelis into the army. A parliamentary committee advanced a bill last month that would do just that. But the banner under which the protestors gathered in Foley Square on Sunday surprised me a little, as it’s one that has been largely the domain of religious liberals: freedom of religion.

As one sign carrier told me today, his religion requires him to sit and study Torah. Any attempt to draft those like him into the military would be a violation of his religious rights.

It has generally been the liberals who have taken this line (in several cases, to the Israeli Supreme Court), arguing that Orthodox law should not be the law of the land, and that Reform and Conservative Jews also have rights, in particular at the Western Wall. The effort has borne fruit, leading to a court ruling in favor of women’s prayer at the Wall and an announcement by  the Religious Services Ministry that it would institute changes to allow for the funding of non-Orthodox rabbis. The support that such efforts have drawn from the ranks of American Jews shows that the quest for religious equality is a resonant one.

Which may be precisely why the haredim are trying to co-opt it. To passersby on Sunday, the crowd had a simple message, one that rings sympathetically to American ears. It’s a savvy move, and one with the added benefit of obscuring the anti-Zionism that is at the heart of the protest. Sings promoting the gathering spoke of the “evil” Israeli authorities, leading the Rabbinical Council of America, a centrist Orthodox group, to condemn the “anti-Israel rally” before it had even begun, saying attendees were aiding the enemies of the Jewish people. But it was the protestors who believed themselves to be on God’s side. One speaker portrayed the conscription effort as only the latest in a series of failed attempts throughout history to destroy Judaism.

Sunday’s gathering was promoted with banners in strongholds of the Satmar hasidic community. According to a Forward report last week, the protest was deemed so important it brought about a rare rapprochement between the group’s two warring  factions, which split after the 2006 death of the Satmar rebbe, Moshe Teitelbaum. Organizers said they expected 20,000 people. One guy with a placard told me there were 100,000 there, which was certainly not the case. But they came by the busload. Hours after the event began, groups of hasidic men in Brooklyn were still streaming toward Manhattan.

 

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5 Responses to “Thousands of Haredim Protest IDF Draft in Lower Manhattan”

  1. Ahron Ebert says:

    I guess Yoshua was wrong to raise an army. Dovid the aurthor or Tahillim was wrong to fight the Palistime.They should stop saying Tahillim. Shimshon HaGibur should not have fought the Palisthime but been sitting and learnig.

  2. Ira Lee says:

    Any nation proclaiming abrahamic lineage should disband their army.

  3. Yehoshua was a navi (prophet). In order to start a new Commonwealth, which includes an army, a prophet is required. Otherwise, the blood of our holy brothers and sisters who have died in all of the wars since 1948 is on our own heads, without any heter.

  4. There are no Satmarers protesting WOW, because Satmar does not go to the Wall. Since Satmar does not believe in a Jewish State, they would not waste their time trying to impose Judaism on others through political means, as opposed to the Religious Zionist/Modern Orthodox segments, who seek to force their religious views on others.

  5. It's about time the Haredi helped carry the burden of protecting and defending the State. As a group, with exceptions of course, they have benefitted without shouldering the burden in the same way other Israeli citizens have had to sacrifice.

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