What Was a Haredi Rabbi Doing in Military Prison 6?

Accompanied by hundreds of followers, Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach visited yeshiva student sentenced for not appearing at enlistment office.

Today’s hero in the Haredi community is a 19-year-old yeshiva student from Kiryat Malakhi, who was sentenced to 14 days in military prison for not showing up at the enlistment center to arrange his deferral from the military.

One of the major leaders of the Haredi community, Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, traveled from Jerusalem on Wednesday to personally visit the student in Military Prison 6 − even though the prisoner is not one of his students − while hundreds of yeshivah students protested outside the prison.

While the Knesset is still trying to advance a new law on drafting the ultra-Orthodox, leaders of extremist Haredi factions are threatening to take to the streets in the coming days to do battle until the student is released.

The student was arrested in his parents' home in Kiryat Malakhi late Sunday night. The following day he was tried and sentenced to 14 days in the brig after refusing to answer a summons to come and arrange his deferral of military service, or to ask for an exemption from service. Since August 2012, the law that regulated deferrals for Haredi yeshiva students has no longer been in force, until the Knesset legislates a new law on the matter.

Hundreds of yeshivah students are ignoring the law − and the draft notices they receive requiring them to appear periodically at the draft offices. A year ago a number of Haredi rabbis issued an order to their followers not to cooperate with the IDF − but the military has avoided taking action against the yeshivah students.

In recent weeks, the “harassment” of these yeshiva students has increased, said sources in Auerbach’s camp. Auerbach is one of the two senior rabbis battling for the leadership of the so-called Lithuanian Haredi community − a group comprised of non-Hassidic Ashkenazi Haredim − and Auerbach leads a mostly Jerusalem faction of the group. The harassment, according to the Haredim, includes visits by the Military Police to the students' homes, looking for them.

“It seems someone has decided to set the field on fire, exactly when the Shaked Committee is reaching the point of making a decision,” said a close follower of Auerbach. The Shaked Committee, headed by MK Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi), is formulating a new law governing the drafting of Haredim and is expected to complete its work soon.

"The Haredim will hold huge demonstrations against the government both in Israel and abroad in protest, said one of Auerbach’s followers. “If that’s what they want, there will be an awakening of large demonstrations.”

Auerbach, 84, made do for now with the rare visit to the prison, which was arranged under the auspices of MK Menachem Eliezer Moses (United Torah Judaism). In a meeting in the office of the commander of the prison, Auerbach blessed the yeshiva student and gave him a book and flowers. Outside the prison hundreds of demonstrators held signs against registering with the draft office and sang the “anthem” of the extremist Neturei Karta Haredi faction that includes the phrase: “We don’t believe in the government of the heretics.”

Auerbach leads the hard-line group opposing the draft of yeshiva students. His newspaper, Hapeles, reported the arrest on Tuesday and yesterday already declared a public campaign to free him. It said the jailing of the student was the imprisonment of the entire Torah world.

The Haredi leadership is split over how to relate to the Shaked Committee, as well as how to deal with IDF enlistment until a new law is passed. Many Haredi groups, such as those represented by Shas and part of United Torah Judaism, say that for now matters should continue as they did before − while waiting for the new law − and yeshiva students should continue to register and receive their deferments. Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the other major leader of the Lithuanian Haredi community, is of the opinion that the Haredi community should wait to see what the Shaked Committee proposes before going out to fight it. But Auerbach, who leads the minority faction, long ago reached the decision that it is necessary to fight the authorities and avoid all contact with the military. In May he put 30,000 people on the streets for one of the angriest and most violent demonstrations in the capital in recent years, over the draft question.

The issue among Haredim is not whether to enlist and serve in the military − the entire Haredi leadership is against that, at least in public − but over whether to even cooperate with the military authorities and arrange the deferments, or to completely break off all contact with the draft authorities.

Nir Kafri