Political, Legal Inaction Reigns as Tal Law Reaches Expiry

In order to extend the Tal Law on military service for the ultra-Orthodox, the Knesset must vote by January 31. However, Haaretz has found that no one in the legal or political systems is working to meet the deadline. The existing law will expire in July, at which time the legislature will be forced to go through the entire legislative process to draft a new law.

Several Tal Committee members and senior civil service attorneys said no one had discussed extending the law with them. The Defense Ministry said a discussion has been scheduled for next week.

The Barak administration established the Tal Committee in 1999 to resolve problems surrounding draft exemptions for yeshiva students. However, the subsequent law took effect only in August 2002.

The law allows yeshiva students over age 22 to take one year off from their studies. During this period, they can acquire a profession or work without being drafted. At the end of the year, the students must choose between returning to full-time studies or completing abbreviated national service.

Committee members hoped the opportunity would encourage members of the ultra-Orthodox community to joint the workforce. At the time, former justice Zvi Tal admitted that the arrangement is unjust, but said the plan would be implemented for five years as a social experiment, to determine whether helped change ultra-Orthodox society.

Last May, the High Court of Justice rejected the last appeals against the law, but also ruled that if it had not been implemented by the end of the five-year period, it could become unconstitutional. Between 2002 and 2005, only 1,400 yeshiva students - 3 percent - took a year off from their studies, and only 74 opted to fulfill national service. Haaretz could not obtain current figures from the Israel Defense Forces.

Then-chief justice Aharon Barak was unsure if the failure stemmed from a "genetic defect" in the law or from the "state's failures to provide the proper implementation tools." Two ministries went to great lengths to torpedo the initiative - the Finance Ministry, which blocked the creation of civilian national service for yeshiva students interested in remaining in the workforce, and the Defense Ministry, which demanded that 23-year-olds in the program complete lengthy service.

Despite the failure to implement the law, the coalition is expected to try to push the extension through the Knesset in the next 10 days.

The Justice Ministry stated, "The minister in charge of this law is the defense minister, not the justice minister. However, the law mandates the Knesset must debate the matter, so no one needs to approach it about the subject." The Justice Ministry also claimed it is inaccurate to claim nothing was done to implement the law.

"The actions taken will certainly be presented to the Knesset."