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New law requires ultra-Orthodox to serve in military comment (0)

March 20, 2014

JERUSALEM — Israel’s parliament passed a controversial law March 12 requiring a significant number of ultra-Orthodox, or haredi, young men to serve in the military or perform civilian national service starting in 2017.

For 65 years yeshiva students (those who study at a Jewish institution that focuses on the study of traditional religious texts like the Torah) were given military service exemptions. Those exemptions have created a deep rift in Israel, where nearly all men and women are drafted for up to three years of military service. Almost all of Israel’s 1.7 million Arab citizens are exempt from the draft.

The law’s advocates view military service as a stepping-stone toward the integration of the haredi community into Israeli society. The community’s norms encourage large families and Torah study over secular skills and employment. 

The draft law codifies a 2012 High Court ruling that invalidated the long-standing military exemption for draft-age ultra-Orthodox men enrolled full time in yeshivas. Despite the court ruling, the government had repeatedly delayed the yeshiva students’ conscription, fearing a political backlash from the country’s religious parties and their constituents, who staged a huge demonstration against the law in Jerusalem and a smaller one in Manhattan recently.

The law falls short of conscripting all yeshiva students. More than 1,000 students deemed especially gifted will be permitted to continue their yeshiva studies, while 2,000 will be required to perform civilian national service.

The delay until 2017 means all 30,000 yeshiva students who are now of draft age will receive an immediate service exemption and be permitted to enter the workplace if they wish. An additional 20,000 students currently 18 to 22 years old will receive an exemption at age 24 provided they stay in yeshiva until then.

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