Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In Israel, Considering Life After The Tal Law

Everyone knows the old joke, right? In Israel, a third of the country works, a third pays taxes, and a third does military service. It just so happens that it’s the same third.

The Tal Law — which has been ruled by the Israeli Supreme Court to be unconstitutional — was designed to correct at least part of this societal imbalance. Prior, Haredi men who entered into a yeshiva for religious instruction were exempt from military service. The Tal Law presented a pathway for the ultra-Orthodox to enter into the army. Torah students were permitted to take a year out for work or non-religious study. Following that year, haredim could then make the choice of whether to return to the yeshiva, or join the workforce and serve in the army in accordance with his marital status, or perform national service for a year and a half.

The number of haredim in service did in fact increase, but not to the extent hoped when the law was introduced some ten years ago. According to Israel Defense Forces figures, 1,282 haredi men enlisted in the army in 2011, up from 898 in 2010 and 729 in 2011.Of course, most of them served in special male haredi units, where the kashrut standards are higher and there is no mixing with women.

Nonetheless, the vast majority of young yeshiva student continue to receive exemptions without recourse, a situation widely deemed untenable given that the Haredi community is expected to double its numbers in the next decade. The Supreme Court ruled that “the wholesale exemption of yeshiva students from military service, authorized by the defense minister, did not conform with basic constitutional standards of equality”.

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