That was the cry for help from an ultra-Orthodox rabbi visiting the States this week. Lest you think he was swarmed by a pro-Palestinian mob on a New York subway, or stumbled upon a hostile college campus encampment, or even a white supremacist rally, his cry for help was different. This was not an appeal to save Jews from Hamas terrorism or Hezbollah rockets. Rather, this was a desperate fundraising appeal – or what one Orthodox rabbi called a “massive schnorr campaign,” to North American Jews – to help fund Haredi yeshivot and institutions.

“The evil authorities, the courts, have cut the budget of the Torah with malice, please make up the shortfall and not at the expense of your regular contributions,” pleaded Rabbi Dov Landau. Rabbi Landau is the Rosh Yeshiva of the famous Slobodka Yeshiva and the recognized leader of the Lithuanian Haredi community. He is considered the successor of Lithuanian Haredi leaders Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman z”l and Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky z”l, and the leading authority in the Ashkenazi Haredi community in Israel today.

This week a major (metaphorical) earthquake struck at the core of Israeli society when the Supreme Court unanimously voted that yeshiva students are no longer exempt from military service. The court further ruled that the Yeshiva students would have to begin enlisting or the government would significantly curtail its financial support for those haredi yeshivot whose students refuse to fulfill their basic military obligation.

Ultra-Orthodox men of military age have been allowed to avoid conscription to the Israel Defense Forces for decades by enrolling in yeshivot for Torah study and obtaining repeated one-year service deferrals until they reach the age of military exemption. In 2017, the High Court ruled that mass exemptions from military service, on a group basis, are illegal and discriminatory. Since then, successive governments have tried and failed to formulate new legislation to settle the matter while requesting repeated deferrals from the court.

The Court’s ruling recounts the story of the exemption for yeshiva students from Ben-Gurion’s time to the present from an exemption for 400 yeshiva students in 1948 to 63,000 students today. As Acting Supreme Court President Vogelman stated:

“The difficulty in this situation is sharpened given the ongoing war in which the State of Israel finds itself, which affects the IDF’s need for manpower required to meet its essential duties… In this situation, the non-enforcement of the Defense Service Law creates severe discrimination between those required to serve and those who are not subject to drafting procedures. As stated in another case, ‘Discrimination regarding the most precious thing – life itself – is the harshest form of discrimination.’”

This decision rocked the balance of life for the ultra-Orthodox who now find themselves in a new predicament without many viable options.

What Will Happen Now?

 Will all haredi 18-year-olds be drafted?

Unlikely. However, the first “installment” of the decision was passed saying that 3,000 of an estimated 63,000 eligible haredi draftees would be called to serve immediately including those whose yeshiva enrollment status is dubious.

The court ruled that if there is no normative framework for a draft exemption, it won’t continue transferring funds to Torah study institutions for those students who did not receive an exemption, or whose service has not been deferred according to the law. (Some will remain full-time Torah students under the notion of “Torato Umanuto” – Torah study is one’s profession).

The haredim will likely use this as a moment to double down on their victimization shreying gevalt at the fact that the Court’s ruling is like that of the Hadrianic decrees of ancient Rome which prohibited Torah study, or the khoppers of Czarist Russia who snatched Jewish boys for a lifetime of army service.

Like this week’s appeal by Rabbi Landau, we will now see many more Haredim turning to sources outside of Israel to raise funds to maintain the independence of their institutions. We likely also will see an attempt to use the Israeli National Institutions (the Jewish Agency and Jewish National Fund ) as sources of potential funding.

Will this bring down the government?

Maybe, but unlikely.

The haredi political parties (Shas and United Torah Judaism) are feeling betrayed by PM Netanyahu and are at complete odds with the Religious Zionist Party. However, they don’t have any better options because if they go to elections, they likely are going to lose even more power.

However, the Supreme Court ruling does symbolize the complete failure of Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s judicial reforms. The Haredim depended on the new fully Right-Wing government to weaken the Supreme Court allowing them to maintain their military exemption. In fact, the opposite happened signaling a good day for democracy.

Netanyahu likely will do everything in his power to delay, delay, and then delay again any implementation of this ruling. He already insinuated that the court is politically motivated and belongs to the “conspirators” who dare challenge his rule – despite the unanimous ruling.

We also likely will see mass-protests of haredim blocking traffic and using language, like that of Rabbi Dov Landau, calling the very government that financially supports and protects them the “evil authorities” and reshaim (evil ones). This rhetoric will further distance them from the mass majority of Israeli society who are already highly resentful and fed up with the injustice of a blanket exemption from military or national service for yeshiva students. Mainstream Israelis lament the fact that they have lost an entire brigade of soldiers since the war began on October 7th and that they are living in an unequal reality.

The best scenario Haredim can hope for at this point is the passage of a bill proposed by MK Benny Gantz, which even the Likud crowd is now rejecting. Just two years ago the Haredim considered that bill an absolute nightmare – and now it is their best hope.

Where do we, Reform Jews, stand on this issue?

We support the decision of the Supreme Court because it is just and fair and because it represents an equitable application of the principles of democracy. We support Torah study and believe that all Jews should be learned in Torah; but we also believe that every citizen has a fundamental responsibility to serve the communal needs of the State, including military service. If the Haredim decide to bring down the current government – we would hope for a government to arise that would enable greater religious pluralism, prioritizing a return of the hostages, and steps to rebuild Israel and Gaza. If they decide to stay in the government then we know that we will need to be vigilant to ensure that the IDF and the government enforce the High Court’s ruling. Likewise, we will need to be on guard in the World Zionist Organization to be certain that the WZO and its constituent bodies are not raided by the Haredi fundraisers.

Our best hope is that the yeshiva students will heed the call and step up to do their part in defending the Jewish State and serving the greater good along with all the citizens of Israel.

Shabbat Shalom.