Israeli Government Introduces New ultra-Orthodox Draft Bill

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
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Ultra-Orthodox men outside the recruitment office in Tel Hashomer, in June.
Ultra-Orthodox men outside the recruitment office in Tel Hashomer, in June.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

Israel's government introduced on Wednesday its new military conscription bill, would lower the age at which ultra-Orthodox men will be exempted from service, thus encouraging them to leave yeshiva studies at an earlier age and join the workforce.

The proposal would see the exemption age from military service for ultra-Orthodox men going down from 24 to 21 for a two-year period. Later on, the exemption age would rise to 22 for a year before going up to 23. 

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The rationale behind the bill is that ultra-Orthodox men remain yeshiva students until the age of 24 so as not be drafted; as long as they are enrolled in yeshivas they remain unemployed, so if the age of exemption is lowered, ultra-Orthodox men may leave their studies earlier to seek employment.

The bill, proposed by Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, was approved by the ministerial committee for legislation in August, and should be brought to its first reading in the Knesset soon.

The bill seeks to determine annual recruitment targets for ultra-Orthodox men, in order to gradually increase the number of men drafted into the army. In the years 2037-2046, the target numbers will grow annually in a manner reflecting the average growth of the Haredi population plus one percent. After that, numbers will grow in accordance with the average growth in that population. The bill also proposes to financially sanction yeshivas that do not meet targets.

The United Torah Judaism party expressed its “determined objection” to the bill. According to its statement, “this is a bad law that sets targets accompanied by threats of sanctions against Torah scholars, in total contrast to the established norm in Israel for many years.”

The Shas Party said that “the unilateral bill presented to the Knesset aims to restrict and harm students of the Torah in a patronizing and high-handed manner, just as this government has adopted from the start.”

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