Nahal Haredi soldier
An armed Israeli soldier waering a prayer shawl and tefillin. Photo by Alex Levac
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David Bachar
Recruits at an IDF draft center. Photo by David Bachar

The Israel Defense Forces denies there has been any change in processing young ultra-Orthodox men seeking draft deferrals, even as Haredi newspapers allege that the army is trying to trick young men into signing forms that will be used as grounds to draft them.

Haredi leaders are apparently skittish about what might follow this month's expiration of the Tal Law, which had regulated Haredi draft deferrals and exemptions.

Over the past few days, the front pages of Haredi newspapers have warned yeshiva students who visit draft boards "not to sign any document (other than documents confirming personal details ) under any circumstances, but to only declare a desire to obtain the regular arrangement for yeshiva students for whom 'Torah is his vocation.'"

Aides to Haredi MKs have told Haaretz about "a stream of complaints" from yeshiva students who say they were "forced" to sign new forms that had never been used before August 1. The forms are allegedly identical to those signed by students at the premilitary academies many national-religious teens attend, which declare a candidate's readiness to proceed with the induction process.

MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism ) has reportedly said yeshiva students complain of being forced to remain at the draft board until they agree to sign the forms, and that some are even threatened if they refuse to sign.

Summer break

Haredi officials said the newspapers had to print conspicuous warnings because the yeshivas are on their three-week summer break and students cannot receive instructions from their rabbis.

The IDF draft authorities categorically deny that anything has changed, saying there have been no new forms for inducting yeshiva students in the past 15 years.

The IDF Spokesman's Office said all candidates for military service are asked to sign the same data information form in which the candidate declares that he is fit to take the psychotechnical test. The form also allows the candidate to defer his induction until he finishes high school, and asks him to confirm the reliability of the information submitted to the draft board.

"We are talking about a form that has been used for many years, and there has been no change to it," the IDF said. "A candidate who is not prepared to sign the form is told that he must continue the screening process, and if he does not request a service deferral, the draft apparatus is authorized to summon him for military service in accordance with his age and the army's needs."

While Haredi coalition members were pleased that the Knesset did not pass a law imposing a draft on yeshiva students, they realize that the ball is in the hands of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who has been asked to draw up regulations to deal with the issue.

Barak told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee last week that "where there had once been [draft] evasion, there must be enforcement, with no hesitation." And he has asked the IDF to craft a new plan to govern the treatment of yeshiva students. But he only plans to present it during the next Knesset session, which opens on October 15.

A check by Haaretz shows that during the period of legal uncertainty that began with the Tal Law's expiration on August 1, nothing has changed - nor is it expected to.

According to army sources, the only form that Haredi students must sign after they receive their first notice (which everyone receives between the ages of 16 and a half and 17 ) is the "Declaration of the Candidate for Security Service," in which the candidate states that he is fit to take the psychotechnical exams.

An IDF source noted that there are always isolated cases of Haredi candidates refusing to sign the forms, but over the past few days there has been no change in that respect.

This leaves open the question whether the newspaper warnings were merely a show of force aimed at inside or outside the community.

"This is such a sensitive issue that we're prepared to go to battle over any change," said a Haredi political source. "The tiniest of changes in the status of yeshiva students immediately sets off all the warning bells."