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Kimberly P. Yow

Kimberly P. Yow

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Interview: Why Israel’s Most Pious Jews Refuse Military Service

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Messianic Jewish leader explains how Christians can best engage the ultra-Orthodox Haredim, who tremble at God’s word as they avoid the war in Gaza.

Amid the war in Gaza, Israel’s most religious Jews threatened to emigrate.

The statement issued by the chief rabbi of the Sephardic community in March had nothing to do with fear of Hamas rockets or the continuing fight against them. Neither was it related to protests over the remaining hostages or calls for ceasefire.

The concern instead was the forced conscription of Haredi Jews, popularly known as the ultra-Orthodox, into the military.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled unanimously against them. Though a plan must still be formulated, about 66,000 ultra-Orthodox of draft age are now eligible for enlistment.

Israel requires three years of service for most men and two years for most women. But in 1947, then-prime minister David Ben Gurion exempted 400 yeshiva students who wished to dedicate themselves to prayer and Torah study.

Marked by traditional black-and-white garb with a hat, long beard, and side curls, they call themselves Haredim—derived from Isaiah 66:2, which says God favors those who “tremble” at his Word. The success of Israel, they believe, is tied to Leviticus 26:3, where national flourishing is dependent on their “careful” observance of the law, interpreted as strenuous engagement with the Scriptures.

Today, however, the Haredi community is the fastest-growing in Israeli society and constitutes 13 percent of the population, estimated to increase to one quarter by 2050. Yet while 540 military-eligible Haredi men voluntarily enrolled to fight since October 7, tens of thousands have continued to avoid the draft under Ben Gurion’s exemption.

In 1998, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled a law was necessary to codify this policy, and it was passed in 2002. Israel also established …

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