Draft Deferrals for Yeshiva Students Pass 50,000 Mark

The number of yeshiva students currently deferring their compulsory military service surpassed the 50,000 mark at the end of 2006.

Seven years ago this figure was only about 30,000, according to the Israel Defense Forces Spokesman, which means the number has increased by an average of 3,000 people every year. At the end of 2005, there were about 46,000.

The IDF Spokesman also presented current figures regarding the Tal Law, and these, too, are not encouraging. Only about 650 yeshiva students are in their "decision year," during which they must decide whether to return to full-time studies or be conscripted for abbreviated military service before entering the work force. This is just 1.3 percent of the students, and a slight increase over last year, when 600 students left yeshiva to test out the outside world.

So far some 1,500 men have completed their decision year. Of these, only 10 percent have actually been inducted, while another 200 are in the process. About 100 yeshiva students were recruited directly into the reserves, while about 280 are currently waiting to complete a civilian national service. The figure that above all indicates the failure of the Tal Law is the 475 men, essentially one in three, who returned to full-time yeshiva studies after their decision year. The remaining 300 probably received exemptions from military service.

In evaluating the Tal Law, other figures are also worth noting: For example, 10 percent of army-age Jewish males receive a deferral instead of being inducted at age 18. This amounts to about 4,500 annually. A Central Bureau of Statistics table of education systems shows that 23 percent of Jewish first-grade boys are enrolled in ultra-Orthodox institutions. In another 12 years those boys will be conscription age. Even if we assume that some are not ultra-Orthodox, and will therefore serve in the army, it is doubtful the IDF can afford a deferment rate of even 18 percent.

No great rush

More than a few ultra-Orthodox rabbis, particularly from the Degel Hatorah movement, strenuously opposed the Tal Law. Most prominent among these rabbis was the head of the Maalot Hatorah Yeshiva, Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, who is expected to be an important Degel Hatorah leader in another 10 years or so. At first the Tal Law's opponents published letters and posters and hounded the law's proponents. MK Avraham Ravitz (UTJ), however, says that in retrospect, there was practically no need for their struggle.

Few in the ultra-Orthodox public made an effort to realize the Tal L aw. One ultra-Orthodox journalist explains that the community's newspapers never detailed the law's content, and did not inform their young readers of the decision year option. The numbers clearly show that not just the strongest objectors - the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox - are not taking advantage of the "year of decision." Even the Sephardim and Hassidim, who have a greater tendency to join the work force, are not rushing out of their yeshivas.