Jerusalem (AFP) - Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews took to the streets of Jerusalem on Tuesday to protest against compulsory military service at a time of increased tensions between them and Israeli authorities.
The protesters dressed in the dark suits and hats typical of the ultra-Orthodox community held signs, including those saying "the state of Israel persecutes Jews".
Rabbis addressed the crowd, sometimes in Yiddish, while police deployed heavily in the area.
"It's better to be shot than to go in the army," said one of the protesters, Aaron Roth, 45 and with a long, dark beard.
The protest was organised by particularly hardline ultra-Orthodox who completely reject the Israeli state.
Military service, two years and eight months for men and two years for women, is compulsory for most Jewish Israelis.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews represent about 10 percent of the Israeli population and live in compliance with a strict interpretation of Jewish laws.
Some of them view military service as a source of temptation for young people who then leave the closed world of prayer and religious study.
The ultra-Orthodox are exempt if studying in yeshiva religious schools, though the issue is controversial with secular Israelis and attempts have been made to remove the exemption.
Regardless, they must register at the recruitment office but some, inspired by rabbis hostile to any cooperation with the Israeli authorities, refuse to and are considered deserters.
Last month there were major protests in ultra-Orthodox areas across Israel, with more than 30 people arrested.
There were also fresh tensions on Monday, when police arrested 22 ultra-Orthodox suspected sex offenders whose alleged crimes were known to their insular communities but concealed from the authorities.
Less hardline ultra-Orthodox Jews participate in Israeli politics and wield significant influence.
Ultra-Orthodox politicians have often acted as kingmakers in Israeli politics, and a number of them currently form part of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition.