JERUSALEM — Hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews blocked the main entrance to Jerusalem on Sunday in a mammoth prayer vigil to protest plans to draft thousands of their young men for military service.
Chanting prayers and verses from the Psalms, a sea of swaying men in black hats and suits thundered "God is the Lord!" as banners proclaimed "The Torah is our life."
The gathering was called after a parliamentary committee approved a bill that would set gradual quotas for conscripting up to 5,200 ultra-Orthodox young men annually for military or other national service, in accordance with Israel's compulsory conscription law.
All Israelis are required to serve in the army when they reach 18, but under a decadeslong arrangement reached in the early years of statehood, ultra-Orthodox religious students were exempt from service. The exemption became a major source of resentment, however, as the number of exemptions ballooned to tens of thousands, with many of the religious students living on government subsidies.