The Ironclad Law of Draft Dodging

For years, the army was the warden of the Haredi society, keeping the students in the yeshivas. The rule that anyone who was signed up for a yeshiva could evade the army forced the students to remain in the yeshiva until after they married and had children.

It's the ironclad law of draft dodging: Any change in the draft deferment arrangements will only worsen the inequality and deepen the discrimination between blood and blood. That's what happened when the quotas were canceled for yeshiva students who took part in the draft deferment program, or when students were allowed to teach for pay. But it seems the change in the Tal Law that was introduced by the Knesset in July as part of the economic program is breaking all the records when it comes to sheer folly and stupidity.

According to the amended law, a yeshiva student who did not serve in the army can go to work only if he is studying in a yeshiva. True, that sentence is so illogical it should be repeated. The new amendment allows yeshiva students who did not go to the army to work only on condition they are going to yeshiva. Like other reforms that have been tried here, the change in the law says that a yeshiva student can work from the age of 23 if they go to school at least eight hours a day, creating the depressing feeling that in Israel any attempt at fixing something will only break it, and that one should never despair because things can always get worse.

The original Tal Law went into effect last February. It said yeshiva students could take a year off at the age of 22 to work or acquire a professional skill, without being drafted to the army. At the end of the year they can go back to yeshiva or enlist for a brief period of service in the army or some civilian service. The Tal commission recognized that its proposal dealt a lethal blow to equality but hoped that the transition of ultra-Orthodox men from yeshiva to the labor force would also create a change in values in Haredi society that ultimately would lead to their agreement to serve in the military.

The IDF spokesman told Haaretz that only a few dozen Haredi yeshiva students have taken that year off since February. What's the explanation for the limited response? Many don't even know there is an option available to them. MK Avraham Ravitz complains that no government agency ever spread the word in an organized fashion through the yeshivas. But the latest change in the law - from the perspective of yeshiva students - makes totally unnecessary the year of the decision and especially enlistment into the army at the end of it.

From now on they don't need the year of decision or any form of service. They can work at a job, wait until they have two to three children and then the army won't be so interested in them and they can happily skip military service. At most the army will call them up for three months of reserve duty.

For years, the army was the warden of the Haredi society, keeping the students in the yeshivas. The rule that anyone who was signed up for a yeshiva could evade the army forced the students to remain in the yeshiva until a late age after they married and had children. The Tal recommendations were meant to free them from that trap at an early enough age so they could acquire professional skills and develop careers.

The law, since July, has turned everything upside down. From now on, being allowed to go to work will compensate those who remain in yeshiva while those who leave the yeshiva will be punished by military or civilian service. Since the yeshiva students will have to be present at the yeshivas, it is a sure thing that in most cases they won't develop careers, as the treasury hoped, but various types of part-time jobs and rackets.

This is a classic example of the argument that laws should not be hastily passed as part of an economic program or a budget law when the legislators - let alone the treasury officials - have little time to think about what they are doing. But in this case, the situation is particularly grave. The High Court made clear that the draft deferment arrangements were not legal and prompted the establishment of the Tal commission. The Tal Law was a careful balance meant to limit the inequality, so it would stand up to the test of the High Court. The new version of the law brings discrimination to levels unheard of in the past.

It is difficult to see how it will stand up in court. It is difficult to understand how nobody has yet petitioned against it. It's embarrassing to think how it happened in a government where Shinui is the major coalition partner.