Some 80 yeshiva heads from all over Israel gathered Monday for an emergency meeting ahead of the publication of the conclusions of the Special Knesset Committee for the Equal Sharing of the Burden Bill, which is chaired by Knesset Member Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi).
The goal of the meeting, held in the central city of Bnei Brak and led by 99-year-old Rabbi Aharon Shteinman, was to convey a clear message to the government that there would be no compromise on drafting yeshiva students to the Israel Defense Forces.
"We will object to any sanction," one of the participants said. "We are not launching a war yet, but if it is forced on us we will see it as a struggle for existence and respond accordingly – like a person whose life is being threatened."
Monday's gathering was aimed to reach Israel's decision makers ahead of the committee's conclusions. Secular media outlets were also invited to cover the event, and the speakers spoke in Hebrew in addition to Yiddish to make their message clear.
As opposed to Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, whose followers staged a protest recently outside a military jail following the arrest of a young ultra-Orthodox man who refused to enlist, Rabbi Shteinman is considered more pragmatic and moderate. On Monday, however, he used harsh words: "They want to destroy the entire Jewish people. Because if you don’t study Torah and sustain it, God forbid, the entire people of Israel will be destroyed."
Yet the rabbi avoided making threats or taking any practical steps. "We must beg them not to do such things," he added.
Rabbi Yigal Rosen, head of the Or Yisrael Yeshiva in Petah Tikva, appeared much firmer and resolved. "We are in the midst of a war over our soul, our existence," he said. "Not a single man of Torah will leave the house of study. We will give our souls for this. We are not giving up on anyone, not even on those who repented or on those who studied in non-religious systems. We are fighting for that too."
Rabbi Rosen "teased" members of Habayit Hayehudi party, saying that "they are using the concept of 'brother' falsely. You don't do such things to brothers."