Shaul Mofaz, left, and Yohanan Plesner.
Shaul Mofaz, left, and Yohanan Plesner. Photo by Emil Salman
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Members of Likud and Kadima are working feverishly to come up with a draft bill that would replace the expiring Tal Law by the end of the day, so that it can be sent down the legislative pipeline next week.

Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Likud ) and MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima ) - who have been trying to hammer out a new bill setting terms for military and national service for the ultra-Orthodox - plan to hold marathon discussions with various government ministry representatives in an effort to overcome a whole host of remaining disagreements.

"We are trying to formulate a bill with an outline for gradual implementation that, even if it won't satisfy everyone, will not rip the nation apart and will lead to a substantial increase in those bearing the burden" of military service, Ya'alon said.

According to another source close to the talks, disagreements still remain on several key issues, but he said, "I hope we'll be able to reach a compromise during the day." He did not elaborate.

Cabinet vote

Ya'alon and Plesner have said they hope to present the proposal on Wednesday, so that it can be voted on during the next cabinet meeting on Sunday.

The two plan to submit the bill on Monday for a first reading in the plenum, and to finish the committee discussions by the following week. That's the last week of Knesset activity before its summer recess - and before the Tal Law expires.

On Tuesday, Ya'alon ventured into the lion's den, so to speak, to address an annual Haredi business conference sponsored by the Hamodia newspaper; he tried to explain that the intention of the new law is not to destroy the Torah world. He said that he and Plesner were looking to establish "a gradual plan that is implementable and which all the involved frameworks can prepare for."

Ya'alon expressed appreciation at the conference on Tuesday for the importance of Torah study and added, "The public and political debate has been rife with ignorance, incitement, disregard and not a little irrelevance. I am stating clearly: It's not possible to implement a law that will draft everyone at age 18. It's important not to cause a rift in the nation."

It's doubtful that many Haredim were reassured, however. Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, one of the leading Haredi rabbis, issued a sharply worded letter via the Yated Ne'eman newspaper rejecting any initiative to draft the Haredim.

"Be careful for your lives," he wrote. "Know for a fact that the only reason the Jewish people merit existence is the merit of the holy Torah students who have nothing in their lives but the four cubits of halakha."

"It has been simple and clear to every Jew, from the moment we became a people, that interfering with the purity of those studying in the holy yeshivas and introducing them to foreign ideas, God forbid, presents a grave danger," he wrote.

The anti-Zionist Eida Haredit group is planning a demonstration next week against the draft of Haredim. The protest is to include children marching with their hands tied.

In posters hung in Jerusalem announcing the event, the group declared: "At a time of religious persecution and decrees, no person dare stay home."

Meanwhile, an independent group of moderate Haredim plans to set up a tent in Tel Aviv on Wednesday and hold a press conference where it will present its own proposal to replace the Tal Law.

The proposal includes the principles that "military service is critical to preserving the state, and civilian service is crucial to sustaining society," "anyone who isn't studying Torah must serve," and "such service must be compensated and non-service must carry a price."