President Shimon Peres commented Sunday that the number of ultra-Orthodox youths to receive an exemption from military service "has reached impossible numbers," calling for a more egalitarian sharing of the bourdon of the nation's security.
Peres, speaking in a meeting with Israel's Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar, warned that the debate on the sharing of military service should be held "without any kind of extreme rhetoric, with a supreme effort to find a real solution to the problem."
On Monday evening, a mass rally of students of zealot the Edah HaChareidis' school system is planned to take place in Jerusalem.
The rally's spokespersons said that "Thousands of children will walk Jerusalem's streets in chains to show the general public how horrible the plight of the ultra-Orthodox is."
On the other end of the ultra-Orthodox spectrum, members of "Tov," an organization of ultra-Orthodox men that served in the Israeli Defense Forces, put up a tent in Jerusalem. Even they, which usually form an opposition to the ultra-Orthodox establishment, joined the party line and called the government to call off plans to legislate any law that would forcibly conscript ultra-Orthodox youth.
The excitement gripping the ultra-Orthodox camp lead rabbi Amar to initiate the meeting with Peres, in which he asked the President to join him in a call against "driving a wedge in the nation" through the issue of ultra-Orthodox conscription.
He said that there were two sides to the issue. Besides the feeling of unfairness on the part of the soldiers and their parents, there is also "the yeshiva students that sacrifice themselves studying the torah, by which they are safeguarding the Jewish nature of our people, keeping the laws of our ancestors as they have from generation to generation, they too must be appreciated for their contribution through hard work with the torah."
Even before the meeting on Saturday, the chief rabbi wrote "Please my brethren, how much longer will we continue inflaming hatred, how much longer will we continue to push away from the embrace of brotherly love?"
Peres agreed with the chief rabbi with respect to the manner in which the debate should be held, but utterly disagreed with him on the proposed resolution of the issue. Rabbi Amar asked the president to let time take its course, saying that the special ultra-Orthodox conscription programs "are growing and will naturally achieve their objectives."
The president thought otherwise. He recounted the story of how in the days when David Ben Gurion was prime minister and he was his assistant a small group of yeshiva students was exempt from military service:
"We went through six extremely difficult wars, always lacking sufficient manpower; never lacking in brave men. The IDF is a brave army," the president said.
"But meanwhile, the hatred hasn't subsided, the enemy hasn't weakened, and the burden must be shouldered by every young and able man who can carry a gun. During the 1948 war a group of rabbis asked Ben Gurion to release the few yeshiva students in Israel from military service in order to preserve the yeshivas," he said.
Peres said that the "idea was that yeshivas exist around the world and it was unthinkable that they wouldn't in Israel. I think that all of us, even those that think that military service should be extended to everyone, want yeshivas to continue to exist."
"We must find the right way to do this. It was I who managed the negotiations at the time. We were talking about 200 to 300 yeshiva students. In the meanwhile the numbers have become impossible," he added.
The president said he thought that "religious people too, those that were exempt from service, understand that these numbers of yeshiva students are unthinkable. The quantity has become a problem."
"I have to say that some improvement was made; many ultra-Orthodox youths serve in religious military units and the likes. I call, like the rabbi, for the debate to be held without any without any kind of extreme rhetoric, with a supreme effort to find not a fair compromise but the right solution to the problem. This isn't a matter for compromise; this is a matter for the right solution that would ensure that in matters pertaining to the defense of the country the burden is properly distributed in among the nation. And that what needs to be done to ensure that yeshivas are maintained is done," he added.
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