Army Treads Lightly as Era of Haredi Draft Beckons

IDF to begin by exempting ultra-Orthodox men over 22, redirecting them to job market.

Tali Meyer

The new yeshiva division at the Israel Defense Forces’ central draft board base at Tel Hashomer will begin granting service exemptions to ultra-Orthodox men aged 22 or older Tuesday, and will attempt to integrate them into the job market.

The yeshiva division will also issue service postponements for ultra-Orthodox men between the ages of 18 and 22, in accordance with the law and the recent adjustments passed by the Knesset.

Postponements will be granted in accordance with the same policy that was used to grant deferments to yeshiva students. The students who receive these yearly postponements will be required to appear at the office of the yeshiva division once a year to request renewal.

Last week, Brig. Gen. Gadi Agmon, head of planning in the IDF’s personnel directorate, was interviewed on the ultra-Orthodox radio station, “Kol B’rama.” Agmon stated that “yeshiva students will continue postponing service as they did in the past,” adding that the decision as to who will be classified a student will be left to the yeshivot, due to the fact that the “army cannot measure who is ultra-Orthodox, and who is studying.”

Agmon also stated that “if draft quotas aren’t met by 2017, the government will have to decide how to proceed.”

Internal arguments have resumed in recent days among the ultra-Orthodox leadership with regards to the new draft regulations, an issue that has affected relations between the ultra-Orthodox and the Israeli public as a whole. The central ultra-Orthodox sect, led by Lithuanian Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, has been affected by pressure from other leading rabbis to convene a conference of Torah sages from the three ultra-Orthodox parties and issue a comprehensive decree to all yeshiva students, ordering them to boycott the IDF completely and ignore the new regulations regarding deferments and postponements (a mandatory draft for all does not seem to be an option at this point).

Such a decree has already been issued by Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach as well as the leader of the Vizhnitz Hasidim, to hundreds of yeshiva students. Currently, these leaders are calling for a complete boycott among all ultra-Orthodox of the army and the government.

The councils of Torah sages made threats before the law was passed, but the issue has returned to the forefront now that the new regulations are in the early stages of implementation. Most of the ultra-Orthodox concerns surround the planned absorption centers, meant to inform young ultra-Orthodox men about enlistment, which have been labeled as “missionary.” The IDF has tried to convince ultra-Orthodox leaders that visiting such a center would be optional, and this was the purpose of Agmon’s interview.