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European Rabbis Protest Israeli Persecution Against Orthodox Jews

July 2, 2013

Representatives of the Orthodox Jewish communities from the UK, France, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium demonstrated in front of the European Union Commission’s headquarters in Brussels on Monday to protest against current Israeli plan to draft Orthodox Jews into its army.

Orthodox Jews have traditionally opposed the State and its army, and have consistently refused to serve in it over the past 65 years. Until now the state granted them exemptions under the pretext of yeshiva studies, but now that is changing. The Israeli government wants the Orthodox community to “share the burden,” but the Orthodox argue that since their community lived peacefully in the Holy Land for a century before the State of Israel was established, they are not a party to the conflicts between the state and its neighbors, and they simply want to continue living in peace and practicing Judaism. The Torah exhorts Jews in exile to live in peace with all nations and not to fight wars.

During the demonstration a delegation led by Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro, Rabbi Joseph Wosner and Rabbi Jacob Domb met with Mr. Krassimir Nikolov, Secretary-General of the Bulgarian European Community Studies Association and Mr. Leonello Gabrici, EU Commission External Relations secretary at the EU headquarters, where they appealed that the European nations bring pressure to bear on the State of Israel to change the draft plan and allow the religious Jews in the Holy Land to continue living and practicing their faith in peace.

Most of the demonstrators travelled seven or eight hours or more by bus, ship, train, or air. The head table was graced by many rabbis and Chassidic rebbes, headed by Rabbi Ephraim Padwa, chief rabbi of London, and the Pshevorsker Rebbe of Antwerp.

Throughout the afternoon the delegations from around Europe began to assemble in the appointed place. At 3:00 the assembly was opened by master of ceremonies Rabbi Chaim Goldman. The first speech was given by Rabbi Elyakim Schlessinger, Rosh Yeshivas Haramah of London, one of the eldest of today’s gedolim, who learned from the Satmar Rebbe and the Brisker Rav. He expressed the goal of the gathering: to stand in solidarity with our Jewish brethren in the Holy Land, who are in distress in the face of this decree.

Then Rabbi Dovid Hager, rabbi of Vizhnitz in London, son of the Vizhnitzer Rebbe of Monsey, led the assembly in reciting Tehillim. The Shatzer Rebbe of Antwerp then spoke and called upon the assembled to resolve to strengthen themselves in Torah study and prayer, to pray for the annulment of the decree. The next speaker was Rabbi Avraham Yonah Schwartz of Khal Chassidim, Vienna. The Spinker Rebbe of Antwerp led the Kabalas Ol Malchus Shomayim.

Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro of Bayswater, New York spoke in English.

wach a video of Rabbi Shapiro's speech.

Click here to read Rabbi Shapiro's speech.

The rally ended with the unequivocal message that European Jewry will not sit idle and will cooperate fully with Jewry in the Holy Land to prevent the decree from being carried out.

One newspaper commented that the rally was “run in impeccable, dare we say military order.”

Rabbi Betzalel Weisz, a rosh yeshiva from Stamford Hill, London, said Haredi Jews were obligated to offer their vocal support to the Haredim in the State of Israel, and to urge them not to give up their staunch position that Haredim don’t serve in the army.

“The aim of the army and the Zionists is not defense but to undermine religion and remove Haredim from their religion,” Weisz said.