Ultra-Orthodox Enlistment in Israeli Military Meets Target, Falls Short of National Service Quota

Few Haredim are finding a place in civilian service slots.

Ultra-Orthodox men sit next to ultra-Orthodox soldier at IDF recruitment base.
Yaron Kaminsky

While the ultra-Orthodox community is fulfilling its government-mandated enlistment objectives for the Israel Defense Forces, it is falling far short in supplying volunteers for civilian service, so that overall the community is not meeting its quotas for national service.

Although the two types of service are measured separately, they are considered together when calculating the enlistment objectives for each year. During draft year 2014 (which ended in July 2015), only 747 Haredim volunteered for national civilian service – half the government’s goal of 1,500. Enlistment in the IDF, on the other hand, came very close to meeting the objective of 2,300 men, with 2,280 enlisting.

The data for the first half of the current draft year, which ended on December 31, show that once again, the number of ultra-Orthodox - or Haredim - volunteering for national service fell short. The quota for the year is 1,800 people, meaning that by the end of 2015 some 900 people should have volunteered, but only 421 people were recruited – 46 percent of the goal.

Sources dealing with ultra-Orthodox enlistment agree that civilian service is not perceived by Haredim as being worth their while. Rabbi Uri Regev, the director of Hiddush, an NGO promoting religious freedom and equality, called the results “a serious failure. What’s worse is that it’s been going on for years and no one is doing anything about it.

“No less serious is the fact that many elements, including Hiddush and the National-Civilian Service Administration, warned that this was exactly what would happen if a blanket exemption was given to yeshiva students. Those who legislated the draft law knew this and ignored it.”

Given these gaps, the cabinet set up an interministerial team to bring the numbers up, headed by Defense Ministry Director General Dan Harel. Representatives of the education, justice and finance ministries are involved, as are representatives of the IDF Personnel Directorate and others. Among the suggestions are to raise the financial incentives for those doing civilian service, and giving them priority in hiring for jobs in government ministries. The Defense Ministry spokesman said the team is expected to submit its recommendations by the end of March.

The head of the National-Civilian Service Administration, Sar-Shalom Jerbi, told Haaretz that his people know the quotas are not being met, but argued, “If there’s no personal incentive for the person, why should he come? He can stay where he is – in kollel [yeshiva programs for married men], for example – and get an exemption.”

According to Jerbi, today the financial incentives for Haredim who remain in kollel are greater than those received by those doing civilian service. In the IDF, he notes, a married Haredi man with a child will get 5,500 shekels ($1,417) a month, but only 1,800 shekels a month in civilian service. He noted that during the debates on implementing the draft law he had warned that he would not be able to meet the objectives being set.

Many people involved in this process note that the reason civilian service is not meeting these quotas stems from the law itself, which more-or-less gives thousands of Haredi men the option of not doing any service. The IDF, however, works intensively to recruit Haredim for military service; there are special recruiters targeting them, special units and service frameworks set up for them, and periodic information campaigns. Only a few days ago the Defense Ministry posted a recruitment video ostensibly showing how a veteran of the Netzah Yehudah battalion, commonly referred to as Nahal Haredi, constitutes a better shidduch (potential mate) than Haredim who have not served.

Hiddush is calling on the government to allocate funds for similar recruitment campaigns for civilian service.