After Draft Law Passes First Vote, the Data: Ultra-Orthodox Soldiers Getting Younger

Military turning to younger and single men rather than drafting older married ones, resulting in a drop in recruitment age

File photo: A soldier in the Israel Defense Forces' ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda infantry unit.
Gil Cohen-Magen

The Knesset approved Monday night the latest version of a bill regulating the military conscription of ultra-Orthodox Israelis by a vote of 63-39. An additional two votes are required for the bill to become law.

The Israel Defense Forces has in recent years been giving attention to a more meaningful military service by Haredi men, turning increasingly to younger and single men rather than drafting older married ones. The trend means that ultra-Orthodox soldiers more closely resemble non-Haredi soldiers in demographic terms. This emerges from figures obtained by Haaretz, presented here for the first time.

In 2017, only 15 percent (442) of the 3,011 Haredi inductees were married, compared to 61 percent in 2016, 76 percent in 2014 and 87 percent in 2012.

The number showing more than anything else the drop in recruitment age among Haredi men is the number of draftees who were over 22.

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Of the 3,011 ultra-Orthodox men who were drafted last year, 2,087 were 20 or under and 213 were 21. Only 23 percent were 22 or older.

By comparison, in 2011 almost half of the Haredi recruits (610 out of 1,280) were over 22.

The numbers also show that 32 percent of Haredi soldiers are serving without the support of a family. There are diverse reasons for this, such as families breaking off ties with these men after they enlisted, as well as soldiers coming from marginal youth groups, whose family ties had been broken previously, and soldiers who had left the world of religion, becoming secular.

Over the next few weeks a committee headed by coalition head MK David Amsalem will examine its details. Haredi representatives want to introduce several changes, the main one relating to a clause stating that if the Haredi public doesn’t meet 85 percent of the draft targets over three years the law will be repealed and all yeshiva students will have to enlist immediately.

The ultra-Orthodox want the law not to be rescinded immediately but that it be brought back to the Knesset.

Dr. Gilad Malach from the Israel Democracy Institute says that “we are seeing a trend towards focusing on meaningful service, both on the part of the draftees and the Israel Defense Forces.”

He says that the age of exemption for the ultra-Orthodox, now at 24, must be lowered to 22. “If the age is 22 the army will be able to continue focusing on younger draftees who will serve in more meaningful and high-quality positions. Those who pursue technological streams at a later age will continue to come regardless of the law. The army’s shortage is in combat and combat-support soldiers. That’s where significant numbers are needed and you get that only from the younger ones.”

Malach adds that “today we know that meaningful service helps the army but also helps Haredi inductees since it lets them fit better into the workplace since they get there at an age at which they can get better training. This is a win-win situation. Thus, from a broader perspective it’s important to lower the exemption age to 22, since most of the draftees arrive at a younger age anyway. This will enable them to reach the workforce at a younger age. Thus the army will benefit and the Haredi men will too, as well as the country and its workforce.”