Sephardi chief rabbi blames 'devil' for plan to enlist ultra-Orthodox

Shlomo Amar, one of Israel's chief rabbis, says that the devil has prompted those who are jealous of Torah study to fight against it

Haaretz, Israel/April 28, 2013

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar on Saturday lashed out at those who support drafting young ultra-Orthodox men into the army, saying the "devil is confusing" those who support universal service in Israel.

Amar did not name specific politicians or ministers, but his remarks came the same week that Finance Minister and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and ultra-Orthodox politicians clashed over religious issues during his maiden speech in the Knesset. Lapid and Naftali Bennett, the chairman of national religious party Habayit Hayehudi, have said they would work to distribute the "burden" of living in Israel more equitably.

Rabbi Amar made his remarks at the weekly study lesson of Shas leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. "In our generation, Torah study is thriving like it did in the past," he said. "The devil, jealous at seeing this, put it into the minds of some people to fight against the Torah. There has never been such nonsense as this."

He went on to disparage the term "equality," saying, "It's as if we did not have enough problems, [as if] there were no illicit relations or poverty in our society - everyone is 'completely equal.' This equality is the last thing we need. It's as if we had no enemies and everyone had made peace with us. We have only one enemy left, and that's the yeshivas...." He called the effort to draft yeshiva students "madness" and asked God to have mercy on us.

Rabbi Amar then added, "Because of our many sins, a spirit of foolishness has entered some people, and it's the devil that is confusing them. Our redemption is entirely dependent on Torah study."

Rabbi Amar is considering a run for a second stint as chief rabbi, but his decision is dependent on whether the coalition passes an amendment named for him (the "Amar law") to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel Law, which would allow them to serve more than one term.

Amar's remarks also come at a time when Defense Ministry officials are promoting a plan to raise the salaries of soldiers doing their compulsory IDF service. Under the plan, soldiers' salaries would increase by 21 percent, linked to the Consumer Price Index. Soldiers' salaries have remained the same since 2003: roughly NIS 750 per month for combat soldiers, and about NIS 350 per month for troops who serve on the home front.

If soldiers' salaries are raised by the proposed amount - about NIS 150 per month - then combat soldiers' salaries would increase to NIS 900 per month. Troops who serve on the home front would earn roughly NIS 70 more, bringing their salaries up to NIS 420 per month.

A Defense Ministry employee who commented on the plan, first described in Yedioth Ahronoth, said that it was unclear whether the reported figures were exact, but that Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon was interested in implementing the plan.

This initiative comes in the wake of a petition filed to the Supreme Court in July 2012 by attorneys Amnon Lorch, Aner Hefetz and Roee Sarel of the law firm Yigal Arnon and Co. The petition, submitted on behalf of Lorch's children who serve in the IDF, argues that while soldiers performing compulsory service had not gotten a raise in a decade (and their earnings lost 20 percent of their value), the chief of staff's salary surged 40 percent.

According to Defense Ministry statistics, NIS 800 million per year is paid to soldiers performing their compulsory service. The cost of the proposed pay increase is roughly NIS 170 million. Defense Ministry officials are still discussing the plan, which has not yet been submitted to the Finance Ministry.

Meanwhile, since Haaretz reported last week that the army plans to exempt tens of thousands of reservists from duty, organizations representing them have expressed opposition to the plan.

Officials say that the decision to exempt so many reservists must be made as part of a public discussion, as it would greatly impact the enlistment model. "The army must allow the public to examine this question of whether a 'people's army' is necessary or not," said Col. (res.) Avi Sayag, chairman of an association of Israeli reservists. "There should be no large-scale exemptions because no one knows when there's going to be a war."

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