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Ultra-Orthodox / Haredi - Military Service

Ultra-Orthodox parties consider military conscription a violation of their religious beliefs, fearing that military service will lead to secularization. But such exemptions from military service are widely resented by other Jewish Israelis.

In the 09 April 2019 election, Likud gained five more seats compared with the 2015 elections, but needed 61 seats to form the government. By late May 2019 his coalition had only 60 members, one short of a majority in the 120-member Israeli parliament. Leader of the secularist party Avigdor Lieberman, sometimes a Netanyahu ally and sometimes a rival, said he would vote against a minority government. “A government of 60 is not a right-wing government, but an ultra-Orthodox government that, instead of preserving Israel as a Jewish state, will change it into a theocracy,” Liberman said. The former Defense Minister had not agreed on the right-wing coalition over the ultra-orthodox refusals to allow men to serve in the military. Lieberman demanded passage of a new law mandating that young ultra-Orthodox men be drafted into the Israeli military, like most other Jewish men, while Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox allies called for the current draft exemptions to remain in place.

Israel has long had a compulsory draft, with men serving in the military for nearly three years and women for two years. However, ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews have traditionally been exempt from military service in the country. They insist that they have always served the society through prayer and study and helped to protect Jewish identity. Haredi is a collective term for groups of ultra-Orthodox Jews who consider themselves the most religiously authentic, and reject modern secular culture.

Israel decided 24 December 2018 to dissolve the Knesset, the legislative branch of the government, and called for early elections amid tensions over a bill to legislate military conscription for ultra-Orthodox men. The leaders of the coalition parties decided unanimously “to dissolve the Knesset and go to new elections at the beginning of April after a four-year term,” the statement from Netanyahu's ruling Likud party said. The national election had been scheduled for November 2019.

In September 2017, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the existing bill which exempted ultra-Orthodox Jews from being conscripted into the army was unlawful. In 2018 the government was granted several extensions for the complete annulment of the bill. The deadline is set for mid-January 2019. Netanyahu would need the support of 61 MKs to pass the controversial haredi enlistment bill that the Supreme Court said must be passed by 15 January 2019. Because the bill would not be passed by then, Netanyahu as defense minister would be breaking the law if he did not immediately enlist the haredi en masse, but he still could ignore the law.

The news about the dissolution of the Knesset and early elections comes hours after Yesh Atid opposition party chairman Yair Lapid said that his party will vote against the bill. Netanyahu “has surrendered to the ultra-Orthodox because he is afraid of them,” Lapid told his party. The legislation was met with fierce opposition among ultra-Orthodox Jews who repeatedly staged protests and clashed with police. Some activists say that they would “rather die than be recruited”. Israel's cabinet approved a draft law on 07 July 2013 to abolish wholesale exemptions from military duty granted to Jewish seminary students. Minister Yaakov Perry, chairman of the Ministerial Committee on Equality in Sharing the Burden in Military Service, Civilian Service and the Labor Force, submitted his committee's recommendations – in the form of two draft laws - for the approval of the Cabinet and the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. Minister Perry noted that his committee would, within two weeks, formulate a draft decision on completing the arrangements related to the outline on sharing the burden. Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon added that the outline would be implemented gradually and that targets would be set for its implementation in the framework of a draft Cabinet decision that is being formulated.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the following remarks: "Today, after 65 years, we are submitting for Cabinet approval the outline on increasing equality in sharing the burden. We will enact this change gradually while considering the special needs of the ultra-orthodox population. Our objective is two-fold: Integrating young ultra-orthodox into IDF and national service and, no less important, integrating them into the labor force."

The Israelis government agreed on 29 May 2013 to abolish wholesale exemptions from military service for Jewish seminary students. The issue of “sharing the national burden” was at the heart of a heated debate over privileges the ultra-Orthodox minority had enjoyed for decades. Netanyahu's main coalition partner, the centrist Yesh Atid party, which had campaigned in the January 2013 general election on a pledge to end military service exemptions for the community, threatened to quit the government unless the issue was resolved. Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, had balked at a clause under which criminal charges would be brought against those trying to dodge conscription. In a compromise, the government-appointed committee working to formulate a new conscription law agreed on sanctions, but delayed implementation for a four-year interim period, during which time the military would encourage 18-year-old Ultra-Orthodox Yeshiva students to enlist.

Under the proposed law, which still faced ratification by the cabinet and parliament, the number of seminary students exempted from the military each year would be limited to 1,800 of the estimated 8,000 required to register for the draft annually. Most Israeli men and women are called for military service for up to three years when they turn 18. However, exceptions had been made for most Arab citizens of Israel, as well as ultra-Orthodox men and women.

Due to haredi natural growth, within a decade or two, half of all 18-year-old boys could have opted 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 IDF 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 of Yeshiva 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 did not study, for they were unsuited for it; they did 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 truth the 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 a number of special kosher certifications by various rabbis. Similarly, other daily practices of theirs are likely to give rise to many difficulties in the IDF’s ability to integrate them.

On 01 July 2011 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu submitted for Cabinet approval, a decision that would enable a significant increase in the number of ultra-orthodox young men who were 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 would enable the number of draftees from the ultra-orthodox sector to double over the next five years. It was expected that the number of draftees would 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 served in IDF technological frameworks for a period of approximately two years and were 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 would 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 would 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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Page last modified: 29-05-2019 19:03:49 ZULU