(Israeli policemen detain an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man during a demonstration against plans to enlist men from their community into the military, near the recruitment offices in Jerusalem May 16, 2013. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested in Jerusalem on Thursday against plans to enlist men from their community into the military, a proposal supported by the secular majority pushing for a more equal share of the burden on Israeli society.

A sea of black coats – the traditional attire of ultra-Orthodox men – engulfed Jerusalem streets near the city’s military draft bureau where the crowd heard rabbis warn that army service would irreparably harm their way of life.

“The government wants to uproot (our traditions) and secularize us, they call it a melting pot, but people cannot be melted. You cannot change our (way of life),” Rabbi David Zycherman told the crowd in an anguished plea.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government has committed to increase drafting ultra-Orthodox men, most of whom receive exemptions on religious grounds, in order to share the national burden and reduce pressure on the middle classes.