Ultra-Orthodox / Haredi - Military Service
Due to haredi natural growth, within a decade or two, half of all 18-year-old boys could opt out of mandatory military service under the 'Law for Yeshiva Students Deferring their Service', commonly known as 'The Tal Law'. The vast majority of ultra-orthodox rabbis wanted nothing to do with enlistment in the IDF, and the overall number of ultra-orthodox young men who opted for some form of IDF service under the law was tiny. Members of the secular majority continued to enlist, serve and sacrifice three years of their lives - and sometimes their lives - while the ultra-Orthodox continued to choose between total evasion of military service and preferential enlistment conditions.
This law authorized the practice in which the Minister of Defense routinely granted deferrals of and exemptions from required military service to ultra-Orthodox Jewish Yeshiva students who engaged in full-time religious study. Of those who enlisted in the I.D.F. in 1987, 1,674 Yeshiva students had their military service deferred (constituting 5.4% of the total). The total number of students included in the arrangement for the deferral of military service in that year was 17,017. The number ofYeshiva students included in the deferral of service arrangement had risen constantly. About 8%of all the enlistees eligible for service were granted a deferral in 1997, based on their being full-time Yeshiva students. The total number of Yeshiva students included in the arrangement that year was 28,772.
Increasingly feelings of inequality were tearing the fabric of Israeli society. Moreover, some of the Yeshiva students being granted deferrals – namely, those who cannot successfully adjust to the full-time study of Torah – found themselves in an untenable predicament; they do not study, for they are unsuited for it; they do not work, for fear of exposing their failure to meet the conditions of the arrangement. The result was an ongoing breach of the law, inhibited personal growth and harm to the work force.
The history of granting deferral of military service to full-time Yeshiva students (students for whom “Torah is their calling”) is in truththe history of the State of Israel itself. In February 1948 the Jerusalem branch of the Recruitment Centre wrote to the heads of several yeshivas who had requested postponement of their students' military service, that a three month postponement would be given to full time students who had no other occupation. Over the years the number of students receiving exemption from military service rose, and in the 1950s had reached thousands of students every year. In 1958 Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion considered reducing the scale of the postponement, which in fact gave most of the yeshiva students complete exemption. The prime minister's plan aroused fears among leaders of the ultra-Orthodox and religious communities, including Rabbi Herzog, that it would lead to abolition of the arrangement and conscription of yeshiva students by force. Rabbi Herzog wrote to Ben-Gurion of his concern, claiming that "they, too [the yeshiva students], are enlisted and safeguard Israel's religion and heritage…..and it is due to them that we have arrived where we are today".
In his answer, Ben-Gurion explained his reasons for changing the existing arrangement, citing both security and moral considerations: "This is, first and foremost, a great moral issue: whether it is fitting that the son of one mother is killed in defence of the homeland, and another mother's son sits in his room and studies in safety, while most of the young people of Israel are risking their lives". He added: "I cannot, under any circumstances, agree with your words, that 'it is due to the yeshiva students that we have arrived at where we are today'. They did not build this country, nor did they risk their lives for its independence (although some of them did so), and they have no special rights that other Jews do not have".
Initially there was a fixed quota of Yeshiva students whose service was deferred, not exceeding about four hundred (400) Yeshiva students a year. This was the number of deferrals granted until 1970. From that year onwards the arrangement was altered to remove the limitation on the number of deferrals that could be granted. Hence, the number of Yeshiva students granted deferrals increased. In 1975, a yearly quota of 800 was established for the number of Yeshiva students who would obtain service deferral. Following the coalition agreement of 1977, the quota was abolished altogether, increasing the number of potential service deferrers.
The arrangement originated as a result of the destruction of the European Yeshivas during the Holocaust and the desire to avoid having to close Yeshivas in Israel pursuant to the enlistment of their students. Eventually, this reasoning no longer held. Israeli Yeshivas were thriving and there was no real danger that drafting Yeshiva students within any particular framework would lead to the disappearance of these institutions.
Deferrals of defense service were granted to full-time Yeshiva students (those for whom “Torah is their calling”). Joining this category was contingent on the enlistee having studied continuously in a Yeshiva High School, be it regular or vocational, since the age of 16. This category was also open to those who studied in a religious high school and whose matriculation exams included Talmud at the level of five units. The category of full-time Yeshiva students also included the newly religious.
There was the perception that the effectiveness of these students’ military service was questionable, due to the difficulties they would encounter in adjusting to the Military and the difficulties that the Military would have adjusting to them. Yeshiva students lead an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle, which made induction into the military difficult, causing them serious problems in adapting to a society and culture, which are foreign to them, and creating difficulties in respecting strict observance of religious precepts. Thus, for example, the ultra-Orthodox do not recognize the Chief Rabbinate of Israel’s certification that food is kosher, while they themselves disagree over recognition of anumber of special kosher certifications by various rabbis. Similarly, other daily practices of theirs are likely to give rise to many difficulties in the I.D.F.’s ability to integrate them.
On 01 July 2011 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu submitted for Cabinet approval, a decision that will enable a significant increase in the number of ultra-orthodox young men who are drafted for military and civic service. This is in order to promote equality and a sharing of the security and economic burden among the various population groups in Israeli society. Prime Minister Netanyahu decided to adopt the recommendations that were submitted to him by IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi and the IDF General Staff. The decision will enable the number of draftees from the ultra-orthodox sector to double over the next five years. It is expected that the number of draftees will reach 4,800 by 2015 (2,400 for military service and 2,400 for civic service). It was also agreed that the IDF would create additional combat frameworks in order to absorb the ultra-orthodox.
Prime Minister Netanyahu also decided to significantly increase and strengthen the "Shahar" project for the ultra-orthodox population, in which ultra-orthodox young men serve in IDF technological frameworks for a period of approximately two years and are trained to enter the civilian labor market. The Prime Minister, along with the Finance; Industry, Trade and Labor; Defense; and Science and Technology ministries, also decided to formulate a program to assist ultra-orthodox young men serving in the IDF and in civic service, in integrating into the labor market after their service.
Prime Minister Netanyahu noted that this was an unprecedented and important decision that will increase the number of ultra-orthodox young men in the military and in civic service, encourage their integration into the labor force and help create a more just sharing of the burden in society.
From 01 August 2012, with the expiration of The Tal Law, Minister of Defense Ehud Barak instructed the IDF to implement the 'Military Service Law' (consolidated version) of 1986. Minister Barak instructed the IDF to submit, within a month, a practical proposal to implement the 'Military Service Law' for the young ultra-orthodox population, until the Knesset authorizes a new law; permanently settling the issue.
The Minister stressed the policy initiative that he has proposed whereby the IDF's deliberations will take into account the Supreme Court ruling, the requirement and values of the IDF, and the principle of leveling the playing field/'sharing the burden'. The IDF will also examine, on a case-by-case basis, the suitability of individuals for military service, as is the convention.
Minister Barak also highlighted his order to accelerate the recruitment of the ultra-orthodox, through expanding and increasing the designated tracks for this community. In the long run, this will contribute to the vocational training and important integration of the ultra-orthodox community into Israel's labor market. With this, the minister instructed the army to 'deepen the means of enforcement' against those who shirk their responsibilities.
In parallel to this, the defense establishment will promote the reform of the payment scheme for soldiers of the IDF; with the emphasis on a scaled framework, whereby the highest level reaches the minimum wage. Minister Barak noted: "It is of the utmost importance that those who serve and bear the burden of our security are rewarded appropriately."
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