Ultra-Orthodox men at a High Court hearing on segregated West Bank school
Ultra-Orthodox men attending a High Court hearing on ethnic segregation among girls at a religious seminary in the West Bank settlement of Immanuel. Photo by Emil Salman
Text size

The Israel Defense Forces has proposed a new model for the implementation of the Tal Law in an attempt to conscript several thousand more ultra-Orthodox into its ranks annually.

Under the law, passed in the Knesset in 2002, yeshiva students have the right to choose at the age of 22 whether to enter the labor, which means some sort of military of national service, or continuing with there studies.

Currently Haredim aged 35 to be completely exempt from conscription, while parents of five or six children are exempted sooner.

The army is willing to see the age limit drop to 27, and in parallel proposes increasing the number of ultra-Orthodox conscripted by including younger men who pass Labor Ministry courses prior to conscription and older Haredim who will serve a shortened term and be incorporated into the IDF's 'emergency reserves'.

This represents a counter-proposal to that of the Finance Ministry, which would like to lower the age at which Haredim are exempt from military service to 24, so that they could be incorporated sooner into the workforce.
In line with a High Court of Justice ruling, the state must formulate a new policy with relation to the Tal Law by the end of this year.

In September 2009 the High Court ruled that the state had 15 months to implement the Tal Law on the conscription of the ultra-Orthodox. The justices were critical that the state is not implementing the law and not making use of the alternative of national service which is part of the law.
The ruling followed a petition by a number of groups who challenged a Knesset decision from June 2007 that extended the validity of the Tal Law for another five years.

On May 16, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a discussion on what the position of the state should be on the matter. Participating in the meeting were representatives of the Finance Ministry, Defense Ministry and the IDF. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz proposed altering the law's conditions and granting exemptions from conscription to parents of two or more children. Steinitz also proposed exempting anyone reaching age 24-25 who had not been conscripted by then.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi opposed lowering the age limit, and argued that it should not be lowered below 27 because this would discriminate against those who do serve. Barak and Ashkenazi noted that many of the young men and women who study before they are conscripted only begin their service at age 25.
Ashkenazi and the head of the IDF's personnel directorate, Maj. Gen. Avi Zamir, put forth the IDF proposal, which Haaretz has acquired.

The army proposes that the state also begin dealing with Haredim aged 16-18 who are not studying in yeshivas. Some of these youths would be trained in Labor Ministry programs and then be conscripted into logistical or technical roles. The army is capable of absorbing into its ranks 100-150 such youths annually, before they are eligible for exemption due to their yeshiva studies - a process that normally ends with no conscription at all. In a decade, the army estimates, it will be possible to conscript through this program 600-700 Haredi youth annually.

Continuing the conscription into the Haredi Nahal for 18-21 year-olds. Currently some 500 ultra-Orthodox are conscripted annually, which includes regular service in a combat unit. A reserve battalion has recently been established, comprising soldiers who served in the regular unit.

Expanding the Shahar program in which ultra-Orthodox serve in technical units of the Air Force and Military Intelligence. The usual age of conscription is 22-24, and the period of service ranges from 17 to 19 months. Because most conscripts are fathers, they receive salaries of NIS 3,500 per month. Some 400 ultra-Orthodox serve in the unit. The army believes it is possible to significantly increase the number of conscripts into this program, and include a day per week of professional training and job interviews, in order to facilitate their absorption into the civilian economy.
Opening another program for Haredim aged 24-27 who will be conscripted for a three-month period and undergo non-combat training. Some will then be called up for regular reserve duty. Others will be part of the 'emergency reserves'.

The main disagreement between the defense and finance ministries concerns budgeting. If the army's proposal is implemented, it will require greater funding as the cost of training a Haredi soldier for technical jobs is higher.