Photo Credit: Mothers on the Front on Facebook
Mothers on the Front rally, August 22, 2023.

240 mothers, members of the “Mothers on the Front” group whose offspring include “present, past and future male and female soldiers” on Tuesday submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice asking the judges to instruct the government, the defense minister and the military to end their violation of the law and immediately enforce the conscription of Haredi yeshiva students, and, as they argue, bring to end the “longstanding discrimination between blood and blood.”

Attorney Dafna Holtz Lachner, representing the petitioners, stated: “Before us is the essence of the constitutional crisis in its entirety – a provision of the law which expressly states everyone must be recruited, without discrimination between blood and blood, vs. a government that makes an illegal decision to explicitly violate the provision of the law and instructs the army not to act according to the law and not take steps to recruit yeshiva students.”


The issue of enlisting Haredi yeshiva students to serve in the IDF has been at the center of a debate in Israeli society since the founding of the state. Over the years, the enlistment of yeshiva students has been postponed, in various agreements, some until they reached an age when they were no longer required to serve, and some until the age when they serve less time.

The vast increase in the number of Haredi youths who evade military service on the grounds of “his study is his craft” has drawn public criticism on both sides of the aisle for its alleged violation of the principle of equality. This claim was discussed by several committees that have been established over the years and in petitions to the High Court, some of which have led to amendments to the law.

Inevitably, the admittedly just argument demanding sharing the “equal burden” becomes mixed with revolting expressions of anti-Haredi sentiments that border on antisemitism. Attorney Ayelet Hashar Saidof, who founded Mothers on the Front, recently spoke at a rally on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv and compared Haredi Jews to rats and other disease-spreading vermin. Last week, Saidof led a rowdy rally in Bnei Brak during which a woman was pictured exposing herself before a group of shocked Haredi men. Frankly, the point about sharing the burden was lost in this act of sexual harassment (the woman was not arrested).

Together with her associates, Saidof paraded carts laden with coffins, which she later morphed, following intense condemnations from all over, into stretcher parades, demonstrations, and a blockade of the IDF absorption center in Ramat Gan.

The Mothers on the Front petition serves the urgent needs of the anarchist movement in Israel, which has seen sharp declines in its numbers during protests. The Mothers provide a fresh source of rage and hatred, attacking the Haredim while the coalition parties are not at work on their judicial reform over the Knesset summer break. They also reveal that the protest never was about the balance between the judicial and executive branches in Israel, it has always been about bringing down the elected government through street violence.

At the same time, the official figures on Haredi recruitment are heartbreaking. Despite claims from the IDF to better numbers, according to the Knesset Foreign and Security Committee, in 2018 only 1,332 Haredim enlisted, and that was the peak year, followed by 884 recruits in 2019, 1,126 in 2020, and 916 in 2021.

As to Haredim who received all manner of absolution from service: in 1948 their number stood at 400, in 1954 it was 1,240, in 1986 it grew to 16,000, in 2002 it was 36,887, and in 2020 the number settled at 52,741.

It should be noted in this context that the IDF 2021 general recruitment numbers dropped to 69% among men and 55% among women. Most of the individuals who chose not to serve are not Haredi, but, you know, Bnei Brak is easier to find.

Haredi opposition to serving in the IDF mainly stems from the secular nature of the military due to the mixing of men and women and the fear of losing the Haredi recruits to the secular society. It is estimated that as many as 50% of national religious and Haredi Israelis go “off the path,” which may explain the demographic phenomenon of both groups having the highest birth rates in the Western world while their political representation remains about the same.

The late Rabbi Steinman in 2013 wrote the Pelsner Committee and then the Perry Committee, both of which were seeking a reasonable solution to Haredi enlistment, arguing that “the mere stay in the military frameworks causes a great spiritual danger, may God have mercy, and this is the opposite of what we educate our children.”

In the end, the Haredi majority deeply mistrusts the intents of the IDF commanders on spiritual issues, while anti-Haredi groups such as Mothers on the Front deeply mistrust the motives of Haredi Jews.


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