Israel’s conscription policy has sparked fury among the ultra-Orthodox community.

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Powerful display of unity, Israel’s ultra-Orthodox or Haredi Jewish community mobilizes in Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, protesting vehemently against a recent Supreme Court ruling mandating conscription of young Haredi men into the Israeli military, ending longstanding government benefits. The scene is stark: throngs of men and boys clad in black and white converge, decrying what they view as an existential threat to their religious way of life. Voices among the demonstrators lament, “For 2,000 years we’ve survived persecution by learning Torah, but now the Supreme Court wants to strip this from us, spelling our destruction.”

The controversy highlights deep-seated tensions within Israeli society. Once a minority, the ultra-Orthodox community now stands at a million strong, constituting 12.9% of the population. Over the years, ultra-Orthodox parties wielded significant political influence, supporting successive governments in exchange for maintaining draft exemptions and substantial funding for their institutions. This arrangement has fueled discontent among secular Israelis, who shoulder the burden of military service and tax payments.

The issue has come to a head amid heightened national security concerns, exacerbated by prolonged conflicts in Gaza and looming threats from Hezbollah in Lebanon. Mor Shamgar, a vocal critic at a recent Herzliya conference, passionately expressed frustration over her son’s extended military service, denouncing government mishandling of the conscription issue. She accuses Prime Minister Netanyahu’s administration of prioritizing political survival over national interests, warning against the societal divide perpetuated by unequal laws.

Public sentiment mirrors this sentiment, with a recent Israel Democracy Institute survey revealing 70% of Jewish Israelis favoring an end to blanket military exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox. Despite this, coalition stability remains intact for now, as ultra-Orthodox parties navigate the push for partial enlistment proposed in a rejected bill.

Inside an ultra-Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem, men enveloped in prayer shawls gather for morning services, underscoring their adherence to traditional Jewish law and customs. Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer, advocating for integration, proposes creating a new Haredi brigade and calls for concessions to accommodate more young ultra-Orthodox men who are not suited for full-time Torah study.

Implementation of the ultra-Orthodox draft unfolds gradually. While over 60,000 yeshiva students currently receive military exemptions, a recent Supreme Court decision prompted the drafting of an additional 3,000 with plans for further recruitment. The evolving landscape has sparked unrest in Mea Shearim, where some protesters resort to violence, targeting police and politicians they perceive as betraying their cause.

The ultra-Orthodox community now faces mounting pressure for change amid societal shifts and geopolitical uncertainties. As Israel grapples with these challenges, the fate of military conscription for the Haredi remains a pivotal issue, impacting national unity and security strategy moving forward.

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