Legislation passed Wednesday by the Israeli government, which will draft more ultra-orthodox Jews into the military, caused thousands of religious protesters in New York to raise their voices. Previously the ultra-orthodox could avoid the military draft in order to pursue religious studies.
Since its founding in 1948, Israel has given its ultra-Orthodox Jews, who make up 8 percent of the nation, the freedom to participate in religious education rather than military service. Secular and modern Orthodox members, in comparison, generally serve three years in the Israel military.
Nearly 50,000 religious protesters in New York took to the city streets in order to publicly disapprove of the change they believe will damage spiritual life in Israel. On those affected by the new law, 18-year-old rabbinical student Shmuel Gruis from Phoenix studying in New York said, “Their whole world and… lifestyle is peace and love. You take…kids out of [that] environment where they [are] from…it’s wrong.”
Proponents of the bill, whose quota aims to bring in 5,200 ultra-orthodox members by 2017, say the law is aimed at equality. Every man and women in Israel over the age of 18 is conscripted to military service, excusing only the psychical or mentally disabled and until now, ultra-Orthodox Jews. Many conscripted soldiers feel the ultra-Orthodox draft exclusion is unfair.
“The change…tomorrow morning… is expected to [recognizably] transform the face of Israeli society,” said Yaakov Peri, a Yesh Atid party member, who supports the legislative change.
If the quotas are not met by religious institutions, the government intends to enforce criminal sanctions for draft-dodgers, an addition some religious leaders call unconstitutional. Economic incentives were offered for compliance of the organizations. If successful by 2017, the rate of those drafted will be raised. The draft changes, which caused religious protesting across the world in New York has deeper roots in Israel.
Many ultra-Orthodox Jews, upon graduating from religious educational institutions, become scholars. The time commitment required by the lifestyle often leaves many to heavily rely on government stipends or welfare. Proponents of the bill believe the change will lead to a larger workforce and more sustainable economy.
A number of secular organizations, while in accordance with the economic theory, believe the new law does not go far enough in the name of equality. The amount of ultra-Orthodox Jews drafted, many believe, do not come close to the near-universal requirements for other Israelis.
“The law as…written…will not lessen inequality,” said Zohara Tzoor, a member of a pro-equality forum that appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court to overturn the law and create more inclusive legislation. In fact he said,”It will only heighten [inequality].”
In contrast, ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel and around the world believe the change will weaken the religious culture, which many Israeli’s hold dear. “We understand there is a need to participate in [the military],” said Yitzhak Vaknin, a lawmaker opposed to the law. “[But] there is also a great duty of the people of Israel to study [Judaism].”
The cries of protests in New York reverberate around the globe to the Israeli voices raised in opposition to the new draft. The law could see changes as the Supreme Court holds the right to challenge the law’s constitutional integrity.
By Erin P. Friar