Israeli ultra-Orthodox in mass rally over army draft

Yolande Knell reports as thousands crowded onto the roads in Israel

Related Stories

Hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews have held a mass prayer in Jerusalem against plans to conscript more of their young men into the Israeli army.

New legislation that would end wholesale exemptions for students at Jewish seminaries is expected to pass in the coming weeks.

A draft bill sets quotas for ultra-Orthodox men to join military or civilian public service.

Those who refuse could face prison.

'Save me'

The ultra-Orthodox demonstration closed off the main entrance to Jerusalem and blocked off many roads to traffic.

Men and teenagers dressed in black hats and coats carried signs that read "The holy Torah will win" and "Please save me from the hands of my brothers".

Rabbis read prayers against the draft over loudspeakers as crowds joined in, swaying backwards and forwards.

In an unusual display of unity, all the three major ultra-Orthodox Jewish streams were represented: Lithuanian, Hassidic and Sephardic.

Ultra-Orthodox Jew 2 March Ultra-Orthodox Jews insist their young men serve the nation through prayer and study

The ultra-Orthodox or haredim, say that army service would stop them devoting themselves to the study of religious scriptures, which is seen as a foundation of Jewish life.

Start Quote

They are a relatively poor social group. Most ultra-Orthodox men are unemployed because of their religious studies and rely on donations, state benefits and their wives' wages to live.”

End Quote

"There are a lot of different types at this one demonstration. The real issue is that this new law will stop us practising the Torah as we should," says a yeshiva student, Yehudi. "This is another threat to the Jewish nation."

"We want to stay in education," adds another student, Shmoli. "If we are forced to go into the army there will be a lot of dangers to our religious beliefs."

"For example you have mingling of the sexes. This is not the way we were brought up."

Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest in Jerusalem 2 March The demonstration closed off large parts of Jerusalem
Growth group

Exemptions from military conscription were given to the ultra-Orthodox when Israel was created in 1948. At that time there were only 400 yeshiva students.

Now owing to their high birth rate, the ultra-Orthodox account for about 10% of the country's population of about eight million people.

They are a relatively poor social group. Most ultra-Orthodox men are unemployed because of their religious studies and rely on donations, state benefits and their wives' wages to live.

This has long caused resentment among Israel's secular majority leading to a demand for the ultra-Orthodox to share the so-called social burden.

In the past, Israel's coalition governments have often relied on the support of ultra-Orthodox partners, making it hard to make political changes that affect their communities.

However the current Israeli cabinet has no ultra-Orthodox members and parties are pushing for the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make reforms.

Some Israeli political leaders hope that a new approach will ultimately see more ultra-Orthodox men also entering the workplace.

More on This Story

Related Stories

More Middle East stories



  • Mukesh SinghNo remorse

    Delhi bus rapist says victim shouldn't have fought back

  • Aimen DeanI spied

    The founder member of al-Qaeda who worked for MI6

  • Before and after shotsPerfect body

    Just how reliable are 'before and after' photos?

  • Woman with closed eyeStrange light show

    What do you see when you close your eyes?

  • Sony WalkmanLost ideas

    What has happened to Japan's inventors?

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.