Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in his office in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in his office in Jerusalem. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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Alex Levac
A ceremony marking the end of basic training for ultra-Orthodox soldiers in the Nahal Haredi Battalion Photo by Alex Levac

Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef declared a state of emergency on Saturday night in response to growing calls to draft ultra-Orthodox young men into military and civilian service frameworks.

The rabbi asked that the heads of his movement's religious seminaries cancel their students' summer vacations and instructed his followers to add a special prayer to the morning and evening prayers in order to "annul the decree."    

The Shas leader's statements came as some 20,000 people demonstrated in Tel Aviv in favor of a universal draft, which would also include ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israeli Arabs.

"We're facing great distress. Unfortunately, there are some who think they can diminish the honor of the Torah, decrease the learning of the Torah, the number of those who study Torah, and the number of those who work for the Torah," he said in his weekly lesson, delivered in Jerusalem, adding that "Israel exists only thanks to the Torah."

"We're surrounded by people who hate us… Iran, Hezbollah and those Palestinians who hate the people of Israel. Who shall save us? The Torah! If the Torah hadn't existed – the world wouldn't have been created," he said, adding, "It is a time of distress for [the people of Israel] but we shall be saved." 

Rabbi Yosef called on synagogues in Israel and abroad to add the Avinu Malkeinu prayer twice a day until further notice. The prayer includes the words "Our father, our king, tear away the evil sentence," and is said during the High Holy Days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

"God's salvation is swift. I request that our brothers in the Diaspora, all of them, the people of Israel all vouch for each other, they know how much we invest so we can have Torah students…" he said.

The leaders of the ultra-conservative Eda Haredit sect also instructed their followers to add the prayer to their daily routines.