Hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews rallied in Jerusalem today (March 2, 2014) to protest emerging legislation that could end their sweeping exemption from military service, according to the Los Angeles Times website.
Israel's capital was paralyzed as access to Jerusalem was blocked. Government offices, schools, and courthouses closed early, and public transportation was halted to accommodate the mass prayer called by rabbinical leaders.
Under heavy police protection, black hats bobbed as the crowd of demonstrators swayed in prayer or danced to express their opposition to a military draft that many decried as a "war against religion." In an unusual move, religious women were encouraged to attend the protest, standing separately from the men.
For decades, Israel's ultra-Orthodox citizens dedicating their lives to Jewish scholarship in religious schools -- called yeshivas -- could defer indefinitely being drafted. But under a new bill -- which is expected to be finalized in the next few weeks -- the number of yeshiva students enrolling in military or other service would gradually increase in coming years by restricting exemptions to outstanding scholars only.
Most non-Orthodox Jews in Israel believe it is not fair for ultra-Orthodox Jews to be exempt from military service, while all other Jews -- including Reform and Conservative Jews -- are required to serve in Israel's armed forces.