Analysis / Who Sabotaged the Tal Law?

Here is one suggestion for the agenda of the new state comptroller - check who is responsible for the Tal Law fiasco. For the Tal Law did not fail, it was sabotaged. In many respects it was a fictitious law, a law the Knesset passed and the government ostensibly intended to implement, but actually never did.

Some 1,150 yeshiva boys left studies in the first two years and took a "decision year." In ultra-Orthodox terms that's a mini-revolution. The Haredi leaders did nothing to encourage them to take the year, but it didn't interfere either. According to the Tal commission's recommendations, those who complete the decision year can return to the yeshiva or perform an shortened military or civilian service. The expectation was that most would opt for civilian service. Except that the civilian service system was never set up.

The comptroller should begin his probe at the Finance Ministry, which is really not keen on financing thousands of national service slots. "They don't say no. They simply don't write the check," says the deputy minister of social affairs, Avraham Ravitz.

The political system is also to blame. Haredi politicians obviously would not contemplate squandering coalition funds to promote the Tal Law or urging its implementation. And the entire political system tends to repress the issue of drafting yeshiva students between one High Court of Justice hearing and the next. But the sand in the Tal Law hourglass is running out. The law is an emergency order that expires in two years, with the High Court sword constantly hovering over it.

The turmoil that erupted yesterday over the fact that only 31 yeshiva students, supposedly, had enlisted was completely disproportionate. First, what's new about ultra-Orthodox not enlisting? Second, the figure is misleading. The correct wording is that only 31 of some 460 yeshiva students who completed their decision year enlisted. Another 180 are in the process of being drafted.

But the basic mistake was expressed by Justice Mishael Cheshin when he said yesterday: "I naively thought the intention was for them to have to enlist in the IDF like our children." Not at all. The intention of the Tal Law was to get yeshiva students into the workforce and allow them to take a civilian service route instead of serving in the army. That is precisely why the law received so much criticism.