Led by maranan verabonon, gedolei haTorah
vehaChassidus, hundreds of thousands of Jews, from all
circles and sectors of the religious and chareidi community
of Eretz Yisroel assembled for a prayer rally in Yerushalayim
to ask for Heaven's help against the persecution of the
Jewish religion in the Holy Land.
Long before the beginning of the rally hundreds of ushers and
activists fixed street signs, set up barriers, and connected
microphones to the amplifier systems, in anticipation of the
hundreds of thousands of participants. A special barrier was
placed in front of the dais where maranan verabonon,
the gedolei hador were seated throughout the rally.
The stirring spectacle will not be forgotten for a long time.
Hours before the rally began, masses of people streamed to
the area on Yaffo Street, near the former (and future)
central bus station.
Nearly 1000 busses were supposed to bring the hundreds of
thousands of participants to the rally, from both out-of-town
and the city itself.
In most of the out-of-town regions, the busses filled to
capacity rapidly. In places like Eilat, Rechasim, Ashdod,
Netanya, Katzrin, Kiryat Shemonah, the Jordan Valley region,
Rechovot, Ofakim, Herzliya and other areas, things proceeded
However in two places there were serious shortcomings: in
Bnei Brak and in Jerusalem.
In Bnei Brak, tens of thousands of people waited for hundreds
of busses to take them to Jerusalem, but the buses arrived
very slowly and sparingly. It soon became clear that the
Egged Bus corporation wasn't letting enough busses enter the
city. The reason for the serious snag still isn't clear.
The long traffic jams at the entrances to the city extended
over many kilometers. Many drivers simply let their
passengers off at Mevasseret Tzion, from where the thousands
marched by foot to Jerusalem, a trek of a number of
kilometers. The traffic jams didn't prevent them from
reaching Jerusalem and spirits were high.
As the slated hour, 3. p.m., drew nearer, more and more
people came from all over the city and all over the country.
Many came by foot, as the streets and roads leading to the
area filled with people carrying Tehillim. A Kol
Nidrei mood prevailed.
Huge placards read: Ani maamin shezos haTorah lo tehei
muchlefes (I believe that the Torah will not be changed) and
Atzeres Tefilla uZe'oka Negged Redifas Hadas vehaMassores
beYisroel (Prayer and Outcry Rally Against the Persecution
of Religion and Tradition in Israel).
The Seder Hayom
The afternoon began at about 2:45 p.m. with a massive
mincha (this was not part of the official program). It
was conducted by R' Moshe Mordechai Lichtenstein, who mounted
the special platform prepared for the event. The thundering
recitation of Kodosh kodosh kodosh, as it emerged from
what were already hundreds of thousands of Yidden,
aroused a wave of emotion -- which reoccurred a number of
times throughout the rally.
At the conclusion of mincha, the participants began to
recite the following chapters of Tehillim: 130, 38, 46,
57, 58, 59, 69,79, 80, 81, 83, 86, 143, 20, 121. The first
was said responsively, and the rest were said together, but
not posuk by posuk. Following Tehillim,
which took about an hour, HaRav Reuven Elbaz, rosh
yeshivas Or Hachaim, recited Ovinu Malkeinu, along
with the participants, who responded verse by verse.
Afterward, selichos were said (including Yisroel
nosha baHashem and Eile ezkero), while shofaros
reverberated each time prior to the recitation of the
Thirteen Middos after Keil Melech yosheiv. In
truth, the sound of the shofaros was not reminiscent of kol
Hashem bako'ach, but was more like a plaintive wail for
The mekubal, HaRav Dovid Batzri, rosh yeshivas
Yeshivas Hashalom, chanted two traditional Sephardic
selichos, Aneinu and Adon Haselichos along with
the participants, who responded verse by verse. Those well-
known melodies were on everyone's lips in the following days,
hummed by all. This is the power of a niggun. It unites
all in one effort: tefilla to the Borei Olom, Adon
selichos, to spread his Tabernacle of peace over us.
At the end of the rally, the hundreds of thousands accepted
ol malchus Shomayim, with the recitation Shema
Yisroel and then Boruch sheim kevod malchuso le'olom
vo'ed three times, and Hashem Hu HoElokim seven
times, led with deep feeling by Rav Shmuel Yaakov Borenstein,
one of the roshei yeshiva of yeshivas Hevron-Geula.
At the end of the prayer, deputy chairman of Agudas Yisroel
Rabbi Menachem Porush, who organized the massive rally in so
brief a period of time, read out the rally's statements.
The giant crowd then dispersed with exemplary order, while
singing tehei hasho'o hazos she'as rachamim, ve'eis rotzon
milfonecha. Near the podium, some broke out in a
The Week Before: Chareidi Complaints
Though the Atzeres itself was purely dedicated to
tefilla to our Creator, the organizers made it
abundantly clear in the days leading up to the event what was
on their minds -- and what was on the minds of the hundreds
of thousands of mispallelim.
The pain is felt most by the chareidim who are suffering the
immediate consequences. But the problem identified is one
that threatens the foundations of the democracy in Israel
that chareidim admire and support. There is no doubt that in
modern society the democratic form of government has shown
its worth, and that all chareidim support it as such. The
attacks on the chareidi community and on the principles of
Torah are not the result of the democratic process. The
Israeli judiciary currently operates as a closed, independent
system, and just as it threatens the chareidi community, it
can threaten others, as well as the democracy itself.
Speaking last week at a press conference prior to the rally,
former chareidi MKs Rabbis Menachem Porush and Moshe Gafni
spoke of a judicial dictatorship in the State of Israel and
warned that the religious public would rebel if the High
Court continued with its "antisemitic" decisions.
Rabbi Porush, deputy chairman of the Israeli Agudas Yisroel,
said the religious public felt persecuted, following a series
of court decisions. He cited rulings concerning subsidies for
chareidi institutions, mandating that Reform and Conservative
representatives be seated on local religious councils and
that those converted to Judaism in non-Orthodox ceremonies
here and abroad be registered as Jews in the Population
Registry (see box of information collected by Manof).
"Court President Barak -- in his decisions, his words, his
attitude to us -- has besmirched himself for generations,"
Rabbi Porush said, adding that "the courts and their
decisions can cause a revolt."
Rabbi Porush said: "It is difficult to breathe in the anti-
religious atmosphere that prevails here, with all the
incitement and the hatred against the chareidi community. We
feel that we are obligated to cry out: Enough. There hasn't
been a rally like this for many years. It embraces all of the
religious parties supported by many circles in the religious
and chareidi community."
Rabbi Porush added that the incitement by politicians, the
press and the judiciary has gone overboard. "We have remained
silent for a long time, and can't be silent any longer. When
we receive funds for our educational institutions, we are
called blackmailers. The current spate of incitement is the
result of jealousy over the growth of the chareidi community,
but it will grow even more. We have reached an intolerable
situation, regarding the hatred toward us, and in all that
pertains to receiving allocations which are actually no more
than redress for prolonged underfunding," he said.
He then focused on the behavior of the courts in Israel.
"What we have managed to achieve in Israel through democratic
methods is now being uprooted by the courts, which behave
like dictators. They have deviated form the accepted
framework, the social contract hammered out over fifty years,
in many areas, and especially in their relations to the
chareidi and religious communities. They dictate to us what
to do. I have heard similar sentiments about judicial
dictatorship also from Chaim Herzog, Yitzchak Rabin and other
"The High Court forces the chairman of the Religious Council
of Jerusalem to include Reform members in its council,
against the rulings of all the great halachic authorities.
Youth organizations which received budgets from the state for
50 years, are now called anti-Zionist by the High Court. Not
only are they denied their funding, but they are being forced
to return allocations they received last year. We aren't
Zionists? We're the Zionists of Zion and Jerusalem. Youth
groups of the Labor party include Arab youngsters. Yet they
receive budgets. Are they Zionists? The kibbutzim received
billions, and they still demand more and more money. But they
aren't blackmailers. We are. We give the State Treasury no
less then they do. In what way have we sinned? What crimes
have we committed?
"I recall the first political murder in this country, that of
Dr. Yisroel Yaakov Dehan some 75 years ago. [Dr. Dehan was
murdered by agents of the Zionists at the time, because he
was working on a dialogue with the Arabs under the direction
of the chareidi leaders of the time. -- Editor] And
this is liable to happen today too. The severe incitement has
reached new heights, which compete with the Sturmer
newspaper. We're lice? This remark [of a judge] doesn't
embarrass us; in embarrasses the judicial system," Rabbi
"I want to tell you," he said to the many journalists who
were present. "This will be a prayer and protest rally, at
which we will beseech the A-mighty to redeem us from this
exile. We will denounce the paradox of autocratic judges who
do whatever they please. Whoever has the power to halt this
incitement should do so, and the sooner the better," he
The Secretary General of Degel HaTorah, Rabbi Moshe Gafni
then spoke and said that the prayer and protest rally has
been called due to the problem of the Reform movement, and
even more so due to the problem of the judicial dictatorship
of the High Court.
"For fifty years, there have been social problems, inter-
sector relationship problems, and problems between chareidim,
and the secular, yet within the framework of the need to live
together a religious status quo, whose basic lines were
established in talks between Ben Gurion and Agudas Yisroel,
was preserved. During recent years a tiny minority from the
Reform movement arrived here from America. Today, everyone
establishes parties. But the Reform don't. Why? Because they
and the entire public knows that they are a tiny, negligible
"Meretz is taking advantage of the Reform to split the
nation. The assimilation abroad [which the Reform aid and
abet] may be defined as a Holocaust. Why do they want
legitimacy? Why have they come here? Let them run in the
elections, and it will be evident that they have no
followers. Why have they come to split the nation? And while
they split the nation, they claim that we are the ones
who are splitting the nation."
Rabbi Gafni declared that their demand to join the religious
councils is scandalous. "It's as if the carpenters wanted to
join the pilots' union. What have they to do in the religious
councils? They have no connection to Judaism. If a Reform
rabbi decides that one who wants to be a Jew has to make a
pledge of allegiance on top of the Shalom Tower, the High
Court will say that he has the right to do so. Every council
has criteria. They seek to infiltrate the religious bodies of
the country through 1000 gates.
"Let it be clear, the rally is against the High Court. There
won't be speeches. But the Jewish people has made many
revolutions through prayer rallies. We have reached a
situation in which a highly dangerous anarchy prevails. The
values on which the rulings of the High Court are based must
be Jewish and democratic. The High Court transforms them into
non-Jewish rulings. The positions of the justices of the High
Court are in general one-sided: against Judaism. This is a
judicial dictatorship uncustomary in Western countries. We
have reached a critical point. We cannot let the judicial
dictatorship continue. We have undergone worse things in our
history. We have come to Israel only because of Torah and
Yiddishkeit. But the judges of the High Court undermine
all of our beliefs.
"The Jewish genius has invented a new idea: dictatorship."
Rabbi Gafni added that the Knesset refused to deliberate on
weighty questions for various reasons, and the High Court
decided that if the Knesset won't discuss those issues, it
"All of us will come to the rally, headed by the gedolei
horabbonim. Enough. The story's over. You have encroached
upon the Shabbos, on conversion, on the religious councils,
in a disgusting manner, and also on the status of the yeshiva
students. The High Court wipes everything out. The State is a
democratic one, and we won't allow a judicial dictatorship."
Rabbi Gafni added that the assaults by the judicial system on
the religious and chareidi community stem partially from the
fact that Netanyahu received the support of the religious and
"The leaders of the Labor party told me before the last
elections [in 1996] that if we interfere in the elections for
the Prime Minister, they'll embitter our lives. They didn't
gain power during the last election so they trying to gain it
by means of the judicial system."
Rabbi Menachem Porush and Rabbi Gafni disclosed that they had
asked to meet with Chief Justice Aharon Barak a number of
times, but he firmly refused their requests. Rabbi Gafni
added that the Chief Rabbis tried to meet with Barak on this
issue, and he refused them as well.
The pronouncements came only a day after Rabbi David Yosef,
the son of Shas mentor Ovadia Yosef, characterized Barak as a
Jew-hater (tzorer haYehudim) and said the courts are
Rabbi Gafni defended Rav Yosef's attack by saying that an
antisemite is someone who makes trouble for Judaism and one
could say that about Barak.
Prime Minister Netanyahu said he condemns anyone who used
such insulting expressions against Jews in general and
against the president of the High Court in particular.
"We must all remember that the High Court, the justices of
the High Court, and the president of the High Court are our
guarantee of the rule of law in the State of Israel, and it
is necessary to respect them and not to attack them,"
Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein said he utterly rejects
the chareidi accusations and particularly objects to terms
such as "Jew-hater" and "antisemite."
"There must be a clear distinction between criticism of a
specific judgment, which is legitimate in public discourse,
and expressions from a lexicon which has no place in the
State of Israel," Rubinstein said.
He added that he suspects the critics have never read the
judgments about which they were speaking. He said he had met
with chareidi leaders to try to understand their anger and
that such dialogue should continue. He added that chareidi
elements complain, sometimes justifiably, about things said
about them, and now their own representatives are using
expressions which are just as harsh.
Justice Minister Tzahi Hanegbi also condemned the expressions
and said the judicial system, justifiably, has achieved a
reputation for quality and fairness in the entire democratic
Meanwhile, the Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein may order
the police to investigate Rav Ovadia Yosef on suspicion of
incitement, following Rav Yosef's verbal attack on the
justices of the High Court, a Justice Ministry source said.
The justices of the High Court are "wicked, stubborn and
rebellious," they are "empty-headed and reckless," they
violate Shabbos, and "they are the cause of all the world's
torments," Rav Ovadia Yosef said in remarks that were widely
Rav Yosef called the justices "slaves who now rule us," said
they were "not worthy of even the lowest court" and that "any
seven-year-old boy is better versed in the Torah than they
Shas leader MK Arye Der'i said the court should represent the
entire public, including the religious and chareidi
populations, Sephardim and Arabs, and "not just a few square
kilometers in [Jerusalem's] Rechavia [neighborhood]."
Attorney General Rubinstein said he was deeply sorry that "we
have arrived at the need to examine in this connection the
utterance of a senior Torah personage." Sources in the
Justice Ministry said that it was "absolutely impossible to
ignore such statements by a senior Torah figure and spiritual
Rubinstein announced he is also opening an investigation into
the reported statements of Rabbi David Yosef, the son of
former Sephardi chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and also into the
statements of former MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni, who allegedly
called High Court President Aharon Barak a "Jew-baiter" and
In reaction to the Attorney General's decision, Rabbi Gafni
said: "In response to all of the complaints which I and
others filed over the daily incitement against the chareidi
community, the Attorney General and the State Prosecutor
replied that freedom of speech is a supreme value in the
State of Israel, and didn't even take the trouble to summon
the chief inciters to clarify the issue.
"If the Attorney General thinks that he can silence the
genuine outcry of the observant community, for whom Torah is
the essence of its existence, he is making a big mistake.
"If the Attorney General indeed issued instructions to
investigate us, he is transforming the State of Israel into
an undemocratic State, which has first class citizens and
third class citizens, and he will bear the responsibility for
"Throughout history, no totalitarian government could deter
the Jewish people from serving Hashem, and keeping His
Torah. Be'ezras Hashem, we will continue this further,
and in the future," Rav Gafni said.
How Weizman Tried to "Prevent Bloodshed"
Last week Israeli President Ezer Weizman made efforts to
dissuade chareidi circles from holding the mass protest.
Weizman traveled to the home of Rav Ovadia Yosef. Weizman and
aid Shumer sat closeted with Rav Yosef and Shas MK Arye
"This was no pilgrimage or legitimization of the [rabbi's]
remarks," Weizman later told reporters gathered outside. "If
I can prevent the possibility of bloodshed, it's my duty to
do so," he said. "I thought about this all night and decided
to throw my weight behind the effort."
Weizman said his aim, he said, was to "reach understanding
between the High Court and the chareidi community." Weizman
hurried back to his residence, where he began a series of
First to meet the president was Rabbi Menachem Porush of
Agudas Yisroel. Weizman requested that the mass protest be
postponed. For his part, Porush said he needed the advice of
the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah. On emerging from the
meeting, Rabbi Porush indicated that he could not agree until
Barak agreed to meet him on these issues.
"I have requested such a meeting several times," he told
reporters. "As soon as we are convinced that the courts will
not rule on matters between G-d and man, we will be quiet,"
Chief Justice Barak arrived at Beit Hanassi, and refused to
comment to the media. Sources close to him said that he is
not prepared to become involved in the machinations
surrounding the issue.
Despite these intensive efforts to cancel the rally the plans
were not changed and the huge rally is now history.
There was widespread anger at the mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud
Olmert, for his verbal attacks on the chareidim against the
background of the prayer rally.
In interviews, Olmert sharply attacked the chareidi community
and its representatives. The chareidi representatives in the
Jerusalem municipality expressed shock and anger over
Prime Minister Netanyahu said last week: "The attacks on the
judicial system and on the justices of the High Court must be
halted on the one hand, and on the chareidi community, on the
other hand. We must tone down the argument. Arguments are
legitimate; defamation isn't."
Netanyahu stressed that it is important to create
communication channels, and that he himself intends to meet
with rabbonim and judicial officials.
Others supported the chareidim, but they were not given much
coverage. Communications Minister Limor Livnat said that no
body, not even the High Court is exempt from criticism. "I
believe that it is permissible to criticize every person. No
body is exempt from criticism, not the Prime Minister or the
High Court. It is permitted to criticize the justices of the
High Court and to demonstrate against its rulings. There is
no problem. A number of years ago, I myself, along with other
MKs, demonstrated in front of the court, against the ruling
of a judge. I don't see anything wrong with that."
Deputy Minister, Michael Eitan dismissed the attempts to
cancel the demonstration. He told the organizers of the
rally: "I totally oppose all of the threats and the
generalizing and offensive expressions used against the
judges. But even if I don't identify with all of the
principles for which you are battling, I fully support your
right to demonstrate and to express yourselves on every issue
and against every government authority, on every topic
Eitan said that "the judicial authority, within the framework
its policy of judicial activism, has increased its
intervention in the political arena, and in this arena, the
use of public pressure, protest and demonstrations are
Education Minster Yitzchak Levi (NRP) advocated canceling the
rally. "I suggest that the two acute problems, the drafting
of yeshiva students and the conversion issue be decided in
the Knesset, and not in the courts. I am sorry that the
Knesset didn't have the courage to deal with this, and I
think that the forthcoming Knesset should grapple with the
"I said that the composition of the judges in the courts
should be balanced, so that everyone will feel represented.
My opinion wasn't accepted, not by the Chief Justice or by
the Minister of Justice Minister, and I am very sorry about
Transport Minister NRP MK Shaul Yahalom was very critical of
the demonstration, which he insists will only undermine the
democracy in Israel and is not an "acceptable" way to proceed
against the High Court
Following his statements National Religious Party-affiliated
Hesder Yeshivot, which officially backed the Atzeres,
circulated notices against the NRP Minister of
Transportation, Shaul Yahalom.
The fliers circulated by the students said Yahalom is
unqualified to reject the instructions of the rabbinical
leaders, including former Chief Rabbis Mordechai Eliyahu and
Avraham Shapira, who are the unofficial spiritual leaders of
the NRP and who backed the rally and attended on Sunday.
Chief Rabbis Yisroel Meir Lau and Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron
arrived at the rally after a meeting of the Chief Rabbinate
Council. The Chief Rabbis and the Council members arrived at
the rally together.
The leaders of the left wing national religious movement
Meimad called on the leaders of religious Zionism not to lend
a hand to the rally. At a press conference their spokesmen
called for a halt to the attacks against the High Court.
Members of Meimad attended the rally in Sacher Park in
support of the High Court.
The Other Rally
Only a few hundred meters from the chareidi throng, another
rally was in a park just opposite the High Court building.
Though far smaller than the Atzeres tefilla, it clearly
had the ear of the press.
The police permitted seven secular and political bodies
including Meretz, the National Union of Israeli Students,
and the kibbutzim to hold a counter-demonstration against the
chareidim, which they called a gesture of support for the
judicial system. It was addressed by politicians from the
left, right and center who were clearly playing to the
grandstands as they turned up the heat.
The Leftist demonstration was surrounded by a ring of police
to prevent the possibility that a number of hotheads would
try to reach the massive rally of the chareidi and religious
This demonstration was addressed by Minister Rafael Eitan
(Tsomet) and Justice Minister Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) as well
as Meretz Leader MK Yossi Sarid and Centrist party leader Roni
The Minister of Internal Security estimated that some 50,000
people participated in the demonstration a figure that was
widely quoted, but other observers said the number was far
smaller. (See separate item on the numbers attending both
The lawyers and employees of the State Prosecution Office
received special permission from the Attorney General to
participate in the demonstration, even though it was
apparently a totally political one.
Attorney General Rubinstein released his own guidelines along
with the State Prosecutor, Edna Arbel, and the Civil Service
Commissioner Shmuel Hollander. The latter at first said that
government employees could participate only in the
counter-rally "in support of the High Court," even though its
program showed addresses by a long list of politicians while
the prayer rally had no political elements in its program and
no politicians scheduled to speak.
At the last minute he modified this to permit government
employees to participate in both of the events, which were
defined as "a prayer rally for the strengthening of Judaism,"
and "a rally in support of the High Court," since they "were
not demonstrations or parades with a political character."
The three warned that if the events were transformed into
political ones, and would include political statements or
remarks against the High Court, the government employees
would have to leave the area immediately.
State Prosecutor, Edna Arbel called on state employees and
the attorneys in the State Prosecutor's office and the
judicial system to participate in the counter-demonstration
organized by the political left, supporting the High Court.
The storm over the permission or the lack of permission for
government employees to participate in the various
demonstrations ended after the lawyers threatened to appeal
to the High Court if the government employees weren't allowed
to participate in the massive chareidi rally.