One in Nine Youths Now Get IDF Deferral for Religious Studies

One day before the Tal Law's expected passage in the Knesset, the Israel Defense Forces released its latest recruitment figures, which are particularly disheartening with regard to delayed service for yeshiva students. Eleven percent of the August 2007 "entering class" will receive a deferral due to their religious studies compared with 9.8 percent last year.

The reasons are clear. In 1995, 11 percent of first-graders were in ultra-Orthodox schools. Today, those first graders make up the 11 percent of those eligible for military service whose service is deferred. This year, 23 percent of first-graders were in Haredi schools. Barring any drastic societal changes, that same percentage will be given deferred service in 2019 - one out of every four potential IDF recruits.

In 2005, the percentage of non-draftees was 23.1 percent. The figure includes service deferrals, which although intended to be temporary, often turn out to be permanent, as well as those who are rejected or do not enlist for other reasons. In 2006, the percentage of non-draftees was 24 percent, and this year it climbed to 25.7 percent - mostly due to religious deferrals.

Particularly salient is the fact that more than one-quarter of potential enlistees do not enlist. But just as Israeli voter registration rolls include those who for years now have been helping to select the president of the United States, 3.4 percent of those on Israeli draft lists are teens who live abroad, effectively reducing total enlistment.

After accounting for those living abroad and the yeshiva students, about 86 percent of the original enlistment pool remains, reducing the proportion of non-Haredim among the non-enlistees to one-seventh rather than one-quarter.

This comes to 11.3 percent of the total "class" of recruits. The breakdown? Four percent do not enlist because they have a criminal record or do not meet requirements. That percentage has not changed since 2005. Who's left? IDF officers were quoted as saying this week that draft dodgers should be ashamed of themselves. One can assume that their real problem is that the dodgers are not ashamed.

In any event it was clear that the officers were refering to the non-religious, and the fact that 7.3 percent of those who enlist are released for health reasons - two-thirds of them because of their mental health. This number has increased by one-third since 2001. That is what has the IDF worried. That's where the secular draft-dodging is - much lower than has been implied, but nonetheless a significant and disturbing phenomenon.

Another figure mentioned today was the number of those who do not complete their army service: 17.5 percent of potential enlistees, which when combined with the non-enlistees comes to 43.2 percent of the "class" that either does not complete, or does not even begin, military service.

That means that only 57 percent of potential draftees do a complete term of service.