Israeli Military Calls on Rabbis to Condemn Attacks on Soldiers

Israel’s military called on the heads of the ultra-Orthodox community today to denounce recent attacks against ultra-Orthodox soldiers.

The call comes a day after about 50 ultra-Orthodox men in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood mobbed an ultra-Orthodox soldier, who fled into a nearby building. Police who were called to the scene to rescue the soldier were attacked with rocks, and four men were arrested, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said by telephone today. The soldier wasn’t hurt.

“The primary responsibility falls on the rabbis who head the ultra-Orthodox community,” military spokesman Brigadier-General Yoav Mordechai said in an interview broadcast on Army Radio. “I urge them to condemn this phenomenon.”

Earlier this week, the cabinet approved a bill making military or community service mandatory for most ultra-Orthodox Israelis, reversing an exemption policy in force since the beginning of the state. Ultra-Orthodox parties oppose the bill. which they say will destroy their way of life.

The exemptions initially applied to several hundred top rabbinical students who were allowed to study, rather than serve. Today, about 60,000 ultra-Orthodox men pursue religious studies instead of military service. Other Jewish men are drafted for a compulsory three years and women serve two years.

The privileges irk Israel’s secular and modern Orthodox majority. The new government, which took office in March, does not include ultra-Orthodox parties for the first time in a decade and has pledged to change the military draft law to restore greater parity.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett warned against blaming the entire ultra-Orthodox community for the attack, and said it was carried out by extremists.

“This generalization is dangerous,” said Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, whose modern Orthodox voter base serves in the military.

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