The three-week semi-mourning period commemorating the destruction of the Temple that began on Sunday with the fast of the 17th of Tamuz probably could not have come at a better time for ultra-Orthodox spokesmen looking for metaphors to describe recent political developments.
Sunday's fast, marking the breach of the walls of Jerusalem, could easily be invoked to describe government efforts to breach the barriers the Haredim have erected to protect their way of life. And one can appropriate the image of the Temple's destruction to declare that the Torah world could collapse, if not by Tisha B'Av, which marks the destruction, then at least by July 31, when the Tal Law that governs Haredi draft exemptions expires.
As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought the recommendations of the Plesner Committee to a vote in the Likud caucus on Sunday, the Haredim were keeping up the pressure.
Despite the fast, the heads of Shas and United Torah Judaism held meetings and marathon discussions with officials from the Prime Minister's Office and with Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon. Netanyahu appointed Ya'alon as his point man with Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner himself, the chairman of the now-defunct eponymous panel, to draw up a draft bill.
That the prime minister adopted the committee's "principles" rather than its actual report left some room for negotiations, but the Haredim sounded pessimistic on Sunday.
Still under discussion is the issue of full exemptions from service (Plesner is now offering exemptions at age 26 to those yeshiva students who will be designated "diligent students" ) as well as a revamping of the personal sanctions recommended in the Plesner report. These specify serious economic consequences for Haredi men who do not perform either military or civilian service, in the absence of a scholarly exemption. Now the sides are discussing a proposal to restrict the sanctions to non-monetary benefits, such as eligibility for affordable housing.
Haredi sources said that even the more moderate version now on the table would leave United Torah Judaism outside the coalition. Shas said that ultimately it would act independently of UTJ, but for now the two parties are presenting a united front.
While some Haredi leaders want to hold a mass Haredi demonstration as a response to Saturday night's protest in Tel Aviv, the move has yet to be approved by the rabbis.
One rabbi who has taken a stand is Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who on Saturday night called on the yeshivas to cancel the summer intersession (during the three weeks following Tisha B'Av ) and keep their students studying Torah to help avert the "decrees."
He called on synagogues both in Israel and abroad to add, starting Sunday, the "Avinu Malkeinu" prayer, usually said between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, to the morning and afternoon daily prayer services.
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