A Haredi Jew walks in Jerusalem in 2012. (Dan Zelazo via Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
A Haredi Jew walks in Jerusalem in 2012. (Dan Zelazo via Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Haredi Jews warn of conflict after Israel’s Supreme Court orders yeshiva draft

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BNEI BRAK, Israel — Members of Israel’s Haredi community are warning of a religious war after this country’s Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the government must start drafting yeshiva students into its military. 

“If our young men have to stop studying Torah to go fight in the army, this country has nothing,” Israel Trabelsi, a 70-year-old Torah scholar and furniture salesman told me here in this largely Haredi community just east of Tel Aviv. 

“Our people aren’t going to stand for it. Just watch.”

Chatting in French Tuesday afternoon from a shady bench in central Bnei Brak, a Haredi city of Tel Aviv, Trabelsi said no ruling by a secular court will interrupt thousands of years of Jewish Torah learning. Along with several other men and women I spoke with after Tuesday’s ruling, he said, “A lot can happen before April.”

That’s the deadline all nine of Israel’s Supreme Court justices set for the government to end its exemption for Haredi men who study Torah full-time to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. That loophole dates back 76 years to Israel’s founding in 1948.

Tuesday’s ruling deemed illegal a decision by the government in June 2023 to put off drafting eligible yeshiva students. It ordered the IDF to end government subsidies for those students and start actively working to recruit them into military service. 

Joseph Chaim said he worries about the spiritual safety of a country that relies just as much on Torah scholars as soldiers for its security.

“God will protect us only if we are learning his word,” the 65-year-old signmaker told me. “The justice system needs to take that factor into account.”

Speaking as he oversaw the installation of a sign for a shoe store here on Rabbi Akiva Street, Chaim said ending subsidies for young Haredi men will “disrupt life and families in our community.” 

“They should be taking money away from Arabs” in Israel, “not from Jews,” he said.

He, like Trabelsi, expects protests over Tuesday’s court ruling, “and possibly violence after that.” 

“Jews fight for what we believe. We have fought wars — we are fighting a war — over much less,” he said.

Sinai Elmakias, 50, an Orthodox Jewish construction worker and father of 12 from nearby Ramat Gan, served in the army years ago and showed me the scar under his yarmulke to prove it. 

“An Arab threw a stone at me, see,” he said. 

“I don’t follow the news so much, and I don’t know from this court decision thing. But the way I see it, I served in the army, so others should go, too.”

This article was originally published on the Forward.

Susan Greene
Susan Greene

Susan Greene is the Forward’s Israel-based correspondent. She has spent the last quarter century reporting news in Colorado, most recently as an investigative reporter and coach for journalists throughout the state. She tweets at @greeneindenver.