Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox men on Wednesday blocked a major Jerusalem intersection, snarling traffic and crippling public transportation across the city, in a demonstration against an attempt to force a community member to comply with the country’s mandatory military draft..
The demonstrators formed a large circle on the tracks of the city's light rail, singing, dancing and praying. Train service was halted, and traffic was backed up for blocks.
The demonstration was a precursor of a looming battle over the country's military draft.
Military service is compulsory for Jewish males, but politically powerful ultra-Orthodox parties have won exemptions for their communities to allow men to study full-time in religious seminaries. These exemptions have prompted widespread anger and resentment from the secular majority.
With the government working on a new draft law, ultra-Orthodox parties, which are a key coalition partner of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hope to strengthen the system of exemptions. Opponents, including key members of a mass protest movement against Netanyahu's judicial overhaul, say the exemptions are unfair and must end.
Although young ultra-Orthodox men are generally exempt from military service, they must still register with the army. Israeli media said Wednesday's protest was triggered by the arrest of a young religious man who refused to file the paperwork.