An anti-draft rally in Jerusalem this past Sunday, called for by the country’s leading haredi rabbis and billed a Million Man Atzeres (assembly), drew hundreds of thousands of demonstrators.
The Torah leaders had urged as many people as possible to attend the protest/day of prayer as a response to the country’s pending legislation regarding the drafting of yeshiva students into the Israel Defense Forces.
Following the Minchah (afternoon) service, Rabbi Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, rosh yeshiva of Jerusalem’s Yeshiva Ateres Yisroel, recited the Chacham harazim blessing. According to the Talmud (Berachot 58b), this blessing is said upon seeing 600,000 Jews in one gathering.
The peaceful demonstration, which included no speeches, featured the reading of several passages of Tehillim, selichos, a special prayer for rain, and kabbalas ohl malchus shamayim (accepting the heavenly yoke). Rabbi Ezrachi was joined in leading these recitations by Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Borenstein, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Kiryas Melech in Bnei Brak; Rabbi Reuven Elbaz, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ohr Hachaim; and Rabbi David Batzri, a leading kabbalist.
In a sign of haredi unity, Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman of Bnei Brak, considered one of the leading halachic authorities of the non-chassidic Lithuanian world, called for the public protest after opposing other similar protests.
The demonstration would have drawn more participants had a number of the more than thirty leading dati leumi (national religious) rabbis, who had originally planned to attend, not pulled out shortly before the rally. (Those who did attend included Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, rosh yeshiva of Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva, and Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Safed.) The withdrawal took place after Israel’s haredi daily newspaper, Yated Ne’eman, published a critical article against national religious leader Rabbi Chaim Druckman.
After Rabbi Druckman urged people to refrain from attending the demonstration due to suggestions by the senior haredi rabbinic leadership that Israel’s government was fighting against God by proposing military draft reforms, Yated Ne’eman – without referring to Rabbi Druckman as a rabbi – called his comments “shameless and of unprecedented hypocrisy.”
Rabbi David Stav, chairman of the religious Zionist Tzohar Rabbinical Association, defended Rabbi Druckman and slammed the rally as a “disgraceful manipulation of the Torah.”