MKs Extend Tal Law, Despite Failure to Implement

The Knesset approved an extention of the Tal Law for a maximum of five years by a vote of 56 to 9, with only the left-wing Meretz party and some members of Labor opposing it, among them Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer. Five members of Likud and seven from National Union, which are in the opposition, voted for the law.

Only a few MKs from Yisrael Beiteinu and the Pensioners Party, which are in the governing coalition, came to vote.

The Tal Law determines an arrangement for exempting yeshiva students from military service. It also allows yeshiva students to take a year off from their studies starting at age 22 to learn a trade or work without being drafted. At the end of the year they would do a short stint of military or national service.

But implementing the arrangement has been a failure. The national service framework has not been established in the five years since the law was enacted, and only about 2,000 yeshiva students have taken advantage of the year-off option.

Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman Tzachi Hanegbi (Kadima) said he understood the concerns that the law would not be implemented in the coming five years and that very few ultra-Orthodox men would do national service. For this reason, he said the committee had established a supervisory system to oversee implementation of the law.

'Shameful surrender'

Meretz called the law a shameful surrender and said it would petition the High Court to strike it down. Meretz MK Ran Cohen said the law was unconstitutional and it "caused mass evasion of the draft."

He added that five years was an unreasonable extention and that the High Court's previous verdict on the law was enough to strike it down.

In May 2006, the High Court stated that the Tal Law "seriously impairs the human dignity of members of majority groups obligated to military service."

It also determined that without essential improvement in the implementation of the law, "there is serious concern that the law will become unconstitutional."

The Israel Religious Action Center, of the Movement for Progressive Judaism, said in response that "on the one-year anniversary of the war in Lebanon, it is unclear how the hands of the Knesset members did not tremble when they approved continued discrimination" between one group and another.