BY MICHAEL RICONDA
Spring Valley – Ultra-Orthodox students attending the United Talmudical Academy in Spring Valley gathered on July 10 in a large demonstration to protest recent changes to Israeli law removing armed service exemptions for yeshiva students.
Elementary and middle school-aged students assembled in lines, holding signs and banners denouncing the state of Israel as rabbis spoke to them in Yiddish, condemning the state of Israel and, at points, comparing them to the Egyptian Pharaoh of the Book of Exodus, the oppressive Roman emperor Titus, and Adolf Hitler.
“When they stole the term Jew from those who practice Judaism, they were not satisfied,” A translated transcript of a speech given at the event iterated. “Their latest decree to conscript all our precious rabbinical students into their military institutions, which are rife with immorality and profligacy, is their latest attempt to exterminate the remnants of genuine Judaism.”
The protest in Spring Valley is one of many which sprang up in response to the announcement, including a massive rally of about 100,000 men and boys on June 9 in Manhattan’s Foley Square. Many speakers at the latter event claimed Israel’s actions were contrary to religious freedom and Jewish law, a sentiment echoed by rally attendees in Spring Valley.
“In Israel, they have a government that is against religious freedom, and because of that, we want to explain to the children that it is against our religion and we are not with [Israel,]” Rabbi, Moshe Kaplen, who teaches ninth grade at the school, explained. “We are Jewish and they are not Jewish.”
The changes were approved by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet on Sunday and have faced strong, angry responses from Orthodox Jews who have often used the exemption to avoid service.
Previously, Jewish citizens of Israel could decline or reduce their mandatory service in the Israeli Defense Forces on the basis of enrollment in a yeshiva. Hesder yeshiva students who combine military service with Torah study were once available for only 16 months as opposed to the typical 36 months, but under the new law, that service will be expanded by one month.
In addition, the law includes several accommodations for Haredi men, including an enlistment age of 21 rather than 18 and civilian service which functions as an alternative to military conscription. The law will be in an “adjustment period” until July 2017, during which Ultra-Orthodox enlistment will not be compulsory.