Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Israelis protest military draft

JERUSALEM (AP) " Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews demonstrated in Jerusalem on Tuesday over military service in one of several protests following the recent detention of a rabbi's son who refused to report to a draft office.

Military service is mandatory for Jews in Israel, but ultra-Orthodox leaders say their communities serve the Jewish nation through religious study and prayer, and fear integration into the army would threaten their insular, pious lifestyle.

Draft exemptions are granted to young ultra-Orthodox men who declare their values at a recruitment center. Those refusing to report to a draft office can be detained.

Draft privileges go back to when Israel's founders granted exemptions to a few hundred gifted students to help rebuild the great schools of Jewish learning destroyed in the Holocaust. But numbers have ballooned dramatically since then.

Josef Berger a 26-year-old protester, told The Associated Press his community wants to continue "the way of life we lived the last 2,000 years."

"They say it's for security reasons and they need more people in the army, but the real reason is they want to change us," he said.

Protestor's waved banners reading: "don't force religious Jews into the army."

Exemptions have bred resentment among Israel's secular majority, whose children mostly serve after high-school.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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