All Israel

With IDF draft law deadline approaching, some ultra-Orthodox threaten to leave Israel

Israeli leaders denounce threats: 'After 2,000 years of exile, we have returned to our land. We will fight for it and we will never abandon it'

Israel's Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef seen with Chief Rabbi of Tzfat Shmuel Eliyahu at an inauguration ceremony for a new women's ritual bath, in the northern Israeli town of Tzfat, Aug. 17, 2023. (Photo: David Cohen/Flash90)

The head of Israel's defense ministry, Yoav Gallant, repeated his statement last week that the ministry would not submit a bill to exempt ultra-Orthodox from the draft unless there was a broad agreement between the heads of all the coalition factions. 

The current military exemption, passed in June 2023, will expire at the end of March, at which time the government will enforce the draft law for the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population, as well.

Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef warned on Saturday that compulsory drafting into the Israeli military would lead to mass emigration of ultra-Orthodox Jews.

"If they force us to join the army, we will all move abroad," Yosef claimed. "We will buy tickets; there is no such thing as forcing us into the army. The state stands on this."

Yosef is the son of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who also served as the chief Sephardic rabbi and the spiritual leader of the Shas political party, which has been a key coalition partner for Netanyahu over the years. 

The chief rabbi further argued that the Torah constitutes the foundation of the State of Israel and its military forces.

“All these secular people don’t understand that without kollels and yeshivas, the army would not be successful,” Yosef said. “The soldiers only succeed thanks to those learning Torah.”

[A Kollel is an institute for full-time, advanced study of the Talmud and rabbinic literature which is attended by married students. Most students in a yeshiva are unmarried, younger students.] 

Several ultra-Orthodox students spoke out in support of Rabbi Yosef’s statement. 

"The most important thing is Torah study – and the army is actually a marginal thing," a yeshiva student told local N12 news. 

“Even if there is a compulsory conscription law, we will die and we will not enlist,” another student, Moshe, said. “We contribute to the war effort by learning Torah.” [In rabbinic Judaism, studying Torah usually refers to studying rabbinic teaching, not the first five books of the Bible, which are also called Torah.] 

Another student in the same yeshiva noted: “The terrorists did not enter the communities that observe the Sabbath.” 

The controversial remarks by the top rabbi were made amid the ongoing war between Israel and the terrorist organization Hamas, which openly calls for the destruction of the Jewish state and all its Jewish citizens regardless of their level of religious observance.

IDF statistics show that the ultra-Orthodox or Haredi Jewish population numbered approximately 1.3 million in 2022, constituting over 13% of the total Israeli population. They are often targeted for receiving substantial government aid despite not serving in the military. 

According to Israel Defense Forces, around 66,000 ultra-Orthodox men received an exemption from military service last year a record number of exemptions. Some 540 ultra-Orthodox youth have volunteered to enlist following the Oct. 7 invasion by Hamas. 

As the war continues, the Israeli military has indicated it will need more soldiers to confront the ongoing security threat on the nation's multiple fronts, including Hezbollah on Israel's northern border with Lebanon and jihadist organizations in Syria, where the Jewish state faces additional Iranian-backed proxies.

While most Israeli Jews including modern Orthodox Jews and some non-Jewish minorities serve in the IDF, the overwhelming majority of ultra-Orthodox Jews are currently exempted from military service on religious grounds. This has contributed to deteriorating relations and growing tensions between Israel’s majority population and the ultra-orthodox minority segment.

Israeli War Cabinet member Benny Gantz, head of the National Unity party, attacked the chief rabbi for his remarks. 

“After 2,000 years of exile, we have returned to our land. We will fight for it and we will never abandon it,” said Gantz, who served as the IDF chief of staff from 2011-2015.

“Rabbi Yosef's remarks are a moral blow to the state and Israeli society. Everyone should partake in the sacred right to serve and fight for our country, especially at this difficult time. Our ultra-Orthodox brothers too,” Gantz continued.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged the importance of integrating ultra-Orthodox Jews into IDF and the wider Israeli society, however, his current coalition government depends on the support of two ultra-Orthodox political parties that are strongly opposed to compulsory IDF drafting.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stated that he is opposed to compulsory drafting without a broad agreement.

“Without the agreement of all parts of the coalition, the security system under my leadership will not submit this law,” Gallant stated, however, he simultaneously emphasized that the current status quo is not sustainable in the long term.

“We cherish and appreciate those who dedicate their lives to learning the Torah. However, without physical existence, there is no spiritual existence. Our security challenges demonstrate that everyone must bear the burden of service. All parts of society,” Gallant said.

Knesset Member Simcha Rothman of the Religious Zionism party also condemned Rabbi Yosef’s statement. 

“At a time when we bury martyrs who combined Torah and army in their lives and deaths, it is not possible to hear a great Torah scholar talking about leaving the Land of Israel.” 

Rothman quoted one of the greatest rabbinical scholars, Rashi, in his rebuke, stating: “The tribe of Levi were among the greatest warriors and Torah scholars.”

A whopping 80% of the Israeli public reportedly support the military draft for ultra-Orthodox Israelis, according to a poll that was taken in September, just weeks before the Oct. 7 invasion and massacre of over 1,200 Israelis by Hamas terrorists and their allies.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

All Israel
Receive latest news & updates
    A message from All Israel News
    Help us educate Christians on a daily basis about what is happening in Israel & the Middle East and why it matters.
    For as little as $5, you can support ALL ISRAEL NEWS, a non-profit media organization that is supported by readers like you.
    Donate to ALL ISRAEL NEWS
    Popular Articles
    Latest Stories