Chief Rabbi backtracks on threats of Haredi mass exodus

After sparking outrage in earlier comments that ultra-Orthodox will leave the country en mass rather than agree to serve in the IDF, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef says he means exemption from military service should be only for those studying Torah full time

Yitzhak Tessler |

Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef on Wednesday walked back earlier threats that Haredim would leave Israel en masse if their exemption from the country's compulsory military service is not renewed. In a message that will appear in a publication for synagogues on Saturday, Yosef said only those who engage in Torah study full time should be exempt.
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"The minority among us who does not study must not be exempt for religious reasons, and are the same as all others who do not study the Torah," he wrote.
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הראשון לציון, הרב יצחק יוסף
הראשון לציון, הרב יצחק יוסף
Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef
(Photo: Yaakov Cohen)
After he was strongly criticized by families of fallen IDF soldiers, Yosef said his position cannot take away from the bravery of the soldiers or the sacrifice of the fallen and their families. repeating his remarks that, by study of the Torah, the ultra-Orthodox men protect Israel and its military and must not leave that duty, not even for a moment.
His comments earlier in the week sparked outrage, and comes while there is growing anger among Israelis over the exemption from military service extended to the Haredi community while the war in Gaza rages on and the IDF has lengthented both the time of compulsory service and the amount of reserve duty required every year.
"The tribe of Levi is exempt from the army. They are not taken, under any circumstances," Yosef said on Saturday night. “If you force us to go to the army, we’ll all move abroad. We will buy tickets; there is no such thing as forcing us into the army. The state stands on this," he said.
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יצאנו לדבר עם תלמידי הישיבות על נושא הגיוס לצה"ל
יצאנו לדבר עם תלמידי הישיבות על נושא הגיוס לצה"ל
Young Haredi men who study Torah and do not serve in the military
(Photo: Alex Kolomoisky )
"The yeshivas and kollels are what hold up the world. The state exists on Torah study, and without the Torah, there would have been no success for the army."
The government must pass a new bill to exempt Haredim from military service before the end of the month according to a ruling of the Supreme Court, or else there can be no government funding for the religious schools, but in light of public opposition and after Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said he would not propose a military exemption law without broad political support, the legislation is facing serious obstacles.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will convene a meeting with ultra-Orthodox Shas party leader Aryeh deri, Gallant and War Cabinet member Benny Gantz on Thursday to try to reach an agreement.
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