A Hasty Decision on Draft-dodging

The 'age of decision' of the Haredi requirement of army service will only get 60,000 yeshiva students off the hook to do mandatory military service.

The decision to eliminate the requirement of army service for Haredi (ultra-Orthodox ) yeshiva students aged 22 and older looks like another hasty, opportunistic move perpetrated by the current government with the goal of preventing thorough discussion of and decisions on controversial issues that threaten the coalition's stability. Henceforth, it will be even easier for some 60,000 yeshiva students who declare that "Torah is their profession" to evade service in the Israel Defense Forces.

Ostensibly, the cabinet merely lowered the "age of decision" at which yeshiva students can cut the umbilical court that binds them to their yeshivas under the "Torah is their profession" arrangement and embark on a life of employment and economic integration. But in practice, this decision - which strips the army of the authority to decide which and how many yeshiva students to draft - was made secretly and hastily, with the Finance Ministry offering its rationale for this "achievement" only after the fact: that it would lead to more Haredim entering the job market.

This explanation is unconvincing, as it is based not on hard data, but merely on shaky assumptions. The decision's advocates never looked into the alternative that the army sought to enact: increasing the number of Haredim who are drafted. The army's proposal was meant to close the gap between yeshiva students and their peers, expose them to a life of responsibility and shared burdens, and also give them the tools they would need for civilian life thereafter.

This alternative was included in the recommendations of the Tal Committee, which was set up following a High Court of Justice ruling in 1999. This ruling, basing itself on the principle of equality, stated that "the defense minister has no authority to institute a system that grants a sweeping [draft] exemption to yeshiva students." The committee's recommendations, which were later enacted as legislation (the so-called Tal Law of 2003 ), proposed a problematic compromise that granted yeshiva students a "year of decision," after which they would either continue their yeshiva studies or be drafted. It at least opened a window to their future integration into society.

But the recommendations were never carried out. In 2007, after the High Court concluded that the Tal Law had been implemented abysmally, the law was extended for five years. In the interim, another solution was proposed - civil national service for both Haredim and Arabs - but it, too, has evaporated. And now another sweeping decision has been made, in violation of both the court's ruling and the law.

This hasty, opportunistic decision once again reveals the blind alley in which the current government is stuck: Lacking any policy of its own, various narrow but powerful sectors are continually dragging it into decisions that hurt society and the state.