Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews blocked roads in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on September 13 to protest the arrest of a Talmudic student accused of dodging the Israeli army.
The protests were organized by the Jerusalem Faction, an extremist organization known for its frequent protests, typically centered on the topic of compulsory military conscription.
Law enforcement authorities declared the demonstrations as public disturbances. Holding signs that read “We’d rather die than be drafted” and “War on the draft,” the demonstrators snarled traffic and crippled public transportation in Jerusalem.
The incidents were a public display of the ultra-Orthodox community’s opposition to a 2012 ruling by Israel’s Supreme Court invalidating a law that allowed wholesale army exemptions for students who opt for a traditional Jewish education.
Compulsory military service in Israel applies to Jewish males, but influential ultra-Orthodox political parties have effectively obtained waivers for their constituencies, enabling men to dedicate themselves entirely to religious studies in seminaries.
The exemptions have generated considerable frustration and dissatisfaction among a substantial portion of the nation’s secular majority, which has been advocating for a fairer distribution of civic responsibilities.
In 2014, in a remarkable display of strength, over 300,000 ultra-Orthodox Jewish men converged on the streets near Jerusalem’s primary entrance, effectively paralyzing the city in protest of the government initiative aimed at increasing the conscription of their community members into military service while threatening legal action against those who evaded the draft for religious reasons.
The ultra-Orthodox community accounts for approximately 10 percent of Israel’s 8 million population. A significant number of ultra-Orthodox men, even beyond the age of military conscription eligibility, choose to remain in religious seminaries, prioritizing their studies over employment and relying on government welfare assistance. While young ultra-Orthodox men typically receive military service exemptions, they are still required to register with the armed forces. According to Israeli media reports, the September 13 protests were instigated by the arrest of a young religious man who declined to submit the necessary paperwork.