About ten thousand Orthodox Jews gathered in Kikar Shabbos (Shabbos Square), the central intersection of the Meah Shearim neighborhood, early on Monday morning, June 25, for a gathering of sackcloth and ashes to protest the Zionist's government's plans to draft boys from the Orthodox community into the army or national service.
The demonstration was organized by the Eidah Chareidis, the independent rabbinate of Jerusalem. Many famous rabbis and heads of yeshivas joined in the call to attend this protest, among them the Chernobyl Rebbe, the Rachmistrivka Rebbe, Rabbi Yehuda Addis, Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Bornstein, Rabbi Meir Tzvi Bergman, Rabbi Yaakov Hillel, Rabbi Aharon Biderman, Rabbi Tzvi Rothberg, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Rosenfeld, Rabbi Moshe Tzadkah and Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Hirschler.
The last time such an early morning demonstration was held was in 1975, also to protest the threat to draft Orthodox Jews.
At about 5:00 AM, men and boys gathered in the square, while women and girls gathered a block away. The gathering began with the recital of Tehillim (Psalms). Then the participants donned sackcloth, sat on the ground, and placed ashes upon their heads as a sign of sadness and distress in the face of the coming decree.
The first speaker was Rabbi Yehoshua Lapidos, a veteran of the decades-long struggle to prevent the drafting of Orthodox Jews. He was the organizer of the 1975 demonstration as well. (Click here to watch Rabbi Lapidos speaking at a different demonstration, in Yiddish with English translation below.) "We must put our lives on the line to avoid going to the army. This is a threat to Orthodox Jewry not in the Holy Land, but in the entire world," he said.
The next speaker was Rabbi Yitzchok Tovia Weiss, the chief rabbi of the independent rabbinate of Jerusalem. He said, "We must give our lives rather than stray from our path. Our oppressors have many ways to destroy Torah by force, and other ways to entice Torah scholars to leave their studies. The yeshivas are the Judaism's tower of light. We will not allow them to take scholars to the army or to the police force. For 2000 years we have kept our ways proudly, and we are not about to give in now."
Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch and Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach also delivered speeches. Then the Toldos Ahron Rebbe led the crowd in the recital of "Shma" and "Kabbalas Ol Malchus Shomayim."
At the end of the gathering the decisions of the rabbis were read. The text said in part, "This state has become a burden for us. We must separate from it. We do not wish to be citizens of it or to participate it its army. We place responsibility on our activists to help us in this matter. Everyone must fight will all his strength against this decree, literally to the point of giving up one's life."