Bottom Shekel Who's Overseeing Haredi Draft Exemptions? (Nobody)

Every year, the IDF loses 13% of its potential draft, because of arrangement under Tal Law exempting Haredim who study Torah as a way of life - and do not work - from army service.

Every year, the Israel Defense Forces loses 13% of its potential draft, because of the arrangement under the Tal Law exempting Haredim who study Torah as a way of life - and do not work - from army service.

By the year 2020, estimates the army, it will be losing 20% of its potential draft each year, because of the relatively faster growth of the Haredi population. Already, 60,000 ultra-Orthodox men who would otherwise have been drafted are studying in yeshiva: They will continue to get deferments each year until age 30 (at least ).

haredim ultra-Orthodox - Micha Odenheimer  - October 28 2010
Ultra-Orthodox men studying in yeshiva.Micha Odenheimer

The army never liked the exemption for Haredim, because it gnaws at the ethos of an "army of the people." Since the Second Lebanon War, the army hasn't liked the exemption for an operational reason as well - it's short of grunts, and losing 20% of its potential draft could threaten its operational effectiveness.

Beyond the military cost, the arrangement of full-time Torah study costs the nation NIS 7 billion a year in allowances and lost output, because they don't work.

Sixty thousand men, exempted from army service, at a cost to sacred values (equality, army of the people ) and hurting the economy, and Israel's military strength as well - can do this by virtue of a little note they possess. The one giving them the note, twice a year, is the Council of Yeshivot - Va'ad Hayeshivot. It is an organization of leading rabbis, the leaders of the great yeshivot. The council existed before the State of Israel. Today it incorporates all the big Torah yeshivas in its embrace, representing them in their doings with the state.

Actually, the council issues two types of permits. One is that the yeshiva is recognized. The other is a permit for the students of that yeshiva.

To get a recognition permit, the council must be shown a list of at least 25 pupils and two recommendations supporting the yeshiva leader from recognized rabbis. The moment the yeshiva is recognized, that's it. No more checks. The list of pupils it submits each year to the council will get practically rubber-stamped - the council does some minimal homework, for instance asking if the pupil finished high school. Then the pupils get the permits that exempt them from army service.

That's it. That's the extent of homework done before exempting a pupil from the draft. That feeble process may explain why the council has no data on how many yeshivas or pupils it rules against each year. Nor does the council take any action against a yeshiva or pupil that/who doesn't make the grade and is refused a permit.

Hot potato

The council does not hold surprise inspections of yeshivas, nor does it intend to. "If field inspections of yeshivas are necessary, let the army do it," a source close to the council told TheMarker.

But it doesn't, not does it mean to. "If the state wants to supervise, let the state establish a supervisory body. It isn't the army's job to supervise the yeshivas," an official army source told TheMarker.

Not only has the State of Israel ratified the status of the Council of Yeshivas in law, as the element exempting yeshiva pupils from the draft. It funds the council as well. The Education Ministry pays between NIS 400,000 and NIS 700,000 a year to the council for its work in exempting pupils from the draft. But no, the Education Ministry does not supervise the Council of Yeshivas. Nor does the ministry view the council as being under its jurisdiction. "The status of the Council of Yeshivas has been defined in the Draft Deferment Law," the ministry stated. The ones responsible for enforcing that law are the Defense Ministry and army, the ministry helpfully added.

What have we here? A voluntary Torah body, the Council of Yeshivas, which is not subordinate to the state or supervised by the state, issues permits every year for 60,000 Haredi men to study Torah instead of serving in the army, without even checking into their status. Is this absence of supervision an invitation for fraud by Haredi men who both dodge the draft and work (presumably, without paying taxes )? Almost certainly it is.

The only one who seems bothered by this is MK Yohanan Plesner, in his function as chairman of the committee checking into implementation of the Tal Law. Plesner recently fired off a biting letter to Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The defense minister answered: "Indeed, the issue of physical inspection at the yeshivas themselves creates difficulty. There is a command about holding sample inspections at yeshivas. We shall keep track of the execution of this new proceeding." One can only hope that the new proceeding will bear fruit.