New Units Take Shape as Israeli Army Drafts More ultra-Orthodox Jews

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The Israel Defense Forces is increasing its number of units manned by ultra-Orthodox Jewish soldiers even before a Knesset committee finishes crafting a new bill on drafting them.

Ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, men have traditionally been exempt from military service, a situation the authorities have been trying to reverse.

This year the IDF will finish setting up a second Haredi infantry battalion, to be followed next year by a third battalion boosting Home Front Command’s search-and-rescue capabilities. Also, an induction center for Haredim, one not staffed by women, is in the works, as is a special basic-training camp.

An earlier conscription law that offered exemptions for draft-age ultra-Orthodox men studying in yeshivas was struck down in court, and in the absence of a new law, the exemptions would no longer apply.

The new conscription bill is being crafted by a committee headed by MK Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi). Its work is based on the efforts of a committee headed by MK Jacob Perry (Yesh Atid), and the bill is expected to be passed in the coming months.

In 2013, about 2,000 Haredi men were drafted into the IDF. The target is 2,300 for this year and about 2,600 for next year. The numbers are similar to targets set by the Perry committee and are subject to adjustment if necessary when the law is passed.

In the group of conscripts drafted in November, there were two Haredi companies instead of one, and they are earmarked for the Haredi infantry battalions. The rate for drafting ultra-Orthodox men in November was slightly lower than the army had planned, but it was enough to form the second Haredi company.

There was controversy, however, over how the army decided who was ultra-Orthodox. Both Haredi leaders and outside experts contend that some draftees who are deemed ultra-Orthodox are actually members of the national-religious community, who tend to serve in the army, as do secular Jews.

Meanwhile, the IDF will expand the draft of older Haredi men, many of them 22 or 23 who already have families. For the most part, these conscripts will works in technology and logistics.

Still, the IDF prefers to draft younger soldiers because their salaries are significantly lower than those of older soldiers in home front positions, who earn nearly 5,000 shekels ($1,440) per month due to a wage supplement to help support their families.

The IDF is in the final stages of other plans to make it easier to draft ultra-Orthodox Israelis. Next month the separate enlistment center for Haredi inductees is to be inaugurated. It is to be operational for the next recruitment round, in March.

A separate basic-training base for ultra-Orthodox conscripts has also been set up; there will be no women there either, at the request of Haredi rabbis. The absence of women is liable to spur criticism in the secular community.

Ultra-Orthodox soldiers in a special class, November 2010.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

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