A High Court of Justice petition was filed yesterday seeking to block further payment of government allocations to 54,000 yeshiva students whose right to defer military service has expired. The end of the deferment followed a court ruling barring further extension of the Tal Law, which provided the deferments, beyond August 1.
The petitioners, including Hiddush, which advocates religious equality, Israel Hofshit (Be Free Israel ), the Israeli Forum for Equal Service and former MK Roni Barizon, say government support can be given only to those exempt from military service. With the expiration of the Tal law, they argue, those it exempted should no longer get government stipends. Estimates are that the government had been paying more than NIS 350 million a year to support yeshiva students.
"The principle must be clear," said Rabbi Uri Regev, president of Hiddush. "Anyone who doesn't serve cannot and doesn't need to receive allocations from the state." Regev, a lawyer, said any attempt to provide the funds would violate the law. "It's a real pity that the attorney general [Yehuda Weinstein] has not ordered an immediate stop to the money and has required us to turn to the High Court of Justice," Regev added.
Zahara Berger Tzur of the Israeli Forum for Equal Service said it was not proper for the Tal law to have expired on August 1 but for nothing to have changed as a result. "Not only has the enlistment process for 17-to-18-year-olds from the ultra-Orthodox community not begun, but the funds for allocations to yeshivas and kollels [yeshivas for married men] that were provided through the Tal law continue to flow. This scandal should be stopped immediately," she said.
"We are witness to an absurd situation," said Be Free Israel director-general Mickey Gitzin, "in which more and more ultra-Orthodox [men] are interested in joining the labor force and the army while the state is encouraging them to refrain from doing that through financial grants."
On Monday, for the first time since the controversy over the Tal law began, the spiritual leadership of the Lithuanian stream of Israeli ultra-Orthodoxy presented a plan to preserve the current situation whereby large numbers of Haredi males do not do military service. The plan would not, however, seek an all-out confrontation with the state on the issue. At the direction of their rabbis, ultra-Orthodox young men would continue to report to draft boards when called, and would ask for a deferment of their army service on the basis of the claim that their religious studies are their vocation. They are also being directed, however, not to sign any forms beyond providing their personal details.