Ultra-Orthodox Jews stage mass Jerusalem protest against Israeli draft law
Hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews held a mass prayer in Jerusalem on Sunday in protest at a bill that would cut their community’s military exemptions and end a tradition upheld since Israel’s foundation.
Ultra-Orthodox leaders had called on their men, women and children to attend the protest against new legislation ending the wholesale army exemptions granted to seminary students, which is expected to pass in the coming weeks,
The issue is at the heart of an emotional national debate. Most Israeli Jewish men and women are called up for military service when they turn 18, but most ultra-Orthodox Jews, or “Haredim”, a Hebrew term meaning ‘those who tremble before God’, are excused from army service.
Police said hundreds of thousands took part in the prayer. Israeli media estimated that between 250,000 to 400,000 attended.
The ultra-Orthodox demonstration paralyzed parts of Jerusalem, blocked the main entrance to the city and halted public transport as the streets around swelled with streams of men in black hats and coats, the traditional Haredi garb.
Rabbis wailed prayers over loudspeakers as the standing crowds swayed back and forth, repeating a plea to God to stop the law from being passed.
“We want to show that we are united and we want to stop a bad thing that they are trying to force us into. The army is not our way of life. It is not run by our rabbis,” said 18-year-old Mordechai Seltzer.