Yeshiva students receiving their draft deferments
Yeshiva students receiving their draft deferments. Photo by Ouria Tadmor
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The battle over drafting Haredi men has begun again, eight years after the Tal Law exempted them from army service for as long as they study at yeshivas.

Two weeks ago, at a stormy meeting held in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz proposed changing the Tal Law to allow ultra-Orthodox men to join the workforce. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and other senior IDF brass objected vehemently. The discussion will continue soon, though the consensus among senior officials is that some change to the Tal Law is necessary and unavoidable.

Steinitz's proposal is to allow any man with two, three or more children, regardless of whether he is ultra-Orthodox, to choose not to serve in the military and be allowed to work. In addition, the proposal states that anyone else who has not served in the army by age 22 would be allowed to perform one year of civilian national service and then be excused completely from the draft. People 24 years old and up who never served would be exempt from national service and be allowed to work.

As a whole, the treasury's policy would be that anyone who has not been drafted would be exempted from military service. This would apply regardless of the reason for the exemption, and regardless of the person's religious affiliation and whether the person is a new immigrant. The Finance Ministry says the current situation is problematic, since the IDF neither drafts Haredim nor is interested in doing so, yet does not exempt them from service and prevents them from working legally until age 30. The treasury says Israeli society is being punished by having to support these yeshiva students since they cannot work.

There are currently 55,000 ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students studying full-time, who have received draft exemptions due to their studies; therefore, they are not allowed to work. The treasury says the country loses out in three ways: It pays allowances for these students; the GDP is smaller because the workforce is smaller; and funds are misallocated from where they are needed most.

There are several IDF frameworks for Haredim who want to serve, but not many choose to do so. The IDF says this is because they need more funds, since these units have special requirements. The treasury argues that this is not the problem, and that the army does not actually want to draft the Haredim, in order to avoid problems.

The IDF objects to the treasury's proposal, saying that granting exemptions at a young age, such as 22, would increase inequality and allow Haredim to avoid serving with little or no penalty. Netanyahu has yet to state his position, though he is thought to be leaning toward the treasury's side - but political complications may make it difficult to pass such changes in the cabinet and the Knesset.