Haredi Activist Poppenheim Threatens War in Wake of Tal Law Expiration

Yesterday, the controversial Tal Law expired and Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered the Military to start drafting Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men en-masse.  The Haredi public has reacted with anger and threats of widespread civil disorder.

On Tuesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the expiration of the law and that the military would begin drafting Ultra-Orthodox conscripts immediately.  Netanyahu also said that the military – not the Knesset – will decide how many soldiers it needs to draft.

The controversial law has exempted Rabbinical students from military service since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 and has grown from a few hundred to nearly 60,000 men.  Secular Israelis now demand that the exemptions end that the Haredi public become Israeli and serve like the rest of the population, even if that service causes assimilation.  The Haredi public however, refuses to serve until the military creates an environment in which its population can thrive and serve without being threatened by outside influences it considers to be a threat to its way of life.

The Tal Law was set to be revamped in June under the Plesner commission, but all discussion was cancelled when it was revealed that the harsh penalties to be enforced against religious and Ultra-Orthodox conscripts would not be applied to the Arab sector, another population group that has low levels of service.

The Secular Israeli population has been attacking the Haredi community over this issue for the last half century.  With the expiration of the law, the attacks have become harsher and more inflammatory.  Earlier this year, a protest was set up in front of the Knesset called “The Sucker’s Protest” and has the goal of forcing Haredim in to service.  Yesterday, that protest movement announced it was joining forces with the disappointing “Social Protest” and also entered Bnei Brak en masse, handing draft notices to all visible Yeshiva students and harassing them about their service.

In response to the announcement, the Haredi public said that if the new law is enforced, there would be widespread civil disobedience.  According to Shmuel Poppenheim, a Haredi activist known for voicing opinions most of the Haredi sector disagrees with, the announcement was an act of war and that all Ultra-Orthodox Yeshiva students will willingly go to jail rather than serve.  However, leaders of the Ultra-Orthodox community said that the military is not prepared for Haredi service on any level.  Rabbi Meir Porush, one of the leaders of the community, echoed this sentiment that was also echoed by several high ranking officials in the defense ministry.