A religious soldier praying.
A religious soldier praying. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
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The Finance Ministry is crafting a proposal to induct ultra-Orthodox men at age 20 into police and fire-fighting units. The plan aims to replace the Tal Law, following criticism by the High Court of Justice of inequality in the legislation, Haaretz has learned.

However, the government reportedly has no immediate plans for a compulsory draft of ultra-Orthodox men. They will continue to be exempt from military service if they study full-time in a yeshiva and do not work.

The High Court ruled in February that the Tal Law, which allows full-time yeshiva students to defer military service, is unconstitutional and may not be extended in its present form. The law went into effect 10 years ago and is due to expire in August.

But the treasury expects its plan will encourage more Haredi men to join the army or civilian national service programs, which will enable them to join the labor market.

The main changes the treasury proposes are reducing the average induction age for Haredi men from 22 to 20 and offer them service in the police and fire-fighting forces in addition to special military service programs.

The treasury's plan will be submitted to the government.

The Tal Law was passed in 2002 following the recommendations of a committee headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Zvi Tal.

Since military service raises severe objections among the Haredim, the treasury proposes an option of serving in the police and fire-fighting forces, assuming these two non-military organizations that nonetheless contribute to state security will not deter the Haredim in the same way.

Induction into the police is a simple procedure, as 6,000 IDF soldiers are already serving as policemen. If this proposal is accepted, the police would continue receiving policemen-soldiers, only now they would be Haredim. These men would enjoy a more comfortable service that would open future job opportunities to them, while the IDF would benefit from an additional 6,000 soldiers who would no longer be required on the police force, treasury officials say.

In addition, Haredim would be able to choose special IDF service tracks as well as voluntary civilian national service programs.

The treasury will offer Haredi men incentives to encourage them to join the police and fire fighters, or even the IDF at the age of 20, by setting quotas for lifelong yeshiva students.

The High Court of Justice ruled that the yeshiva students to be exempted from military service must be limited to a reasonable number. The treasury suggests continuing to budget yeshivas for students according to their respective quotas.

Consequently, students above the quota would no longer receive a stipend. (The state pays yeshivas stipends on the basis of their number of students. ) Yeshivas that accept students above their quota may have their budgets curtailed.

The treasury also assumes that most Haredi men are not comfortable with the poverty forced on them by the law, which conditions the exemption from the IDF on yeshiva studies and unemployment.

The treasury's reasoning is that allowing Haredi men to serve in the police, fire fighters or civilian national service would make it easier for many of them to leave the yeshiva and join the labor market.

However, the proposal requires the consent of the Haredi community and first and foremost its rabbis.

The proposal's weakness lies in the lower induction age. The treasury insists on the age of 20, because the High Court ruled that induction at 22 violates the equality principle. Also, at 22 most Haredi men are already married with children and mobilizing them becomes very expensive.

Every Haredi recruit costs the state NIS 150,000 and is not worthwhile economically. Recruitment at the age of 20 reduces the cost and enables the Haredim to join the labor market when they are more flexible and easier to fit in.

This may also be the reason the rabbis will object to the proposal. The age of 18 to 22 is seen as critical for yeshiva students' adjustment to the Haredi way of life. The rabbis may view the removal of them from the strict Haredi regime before they are married as a threat to the community.

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