Yeshiva Students Waiving IDF Service on the Rise

Yeshiva students deferring the military draft make up one out of every seven Jewish 18-year-olds. The percentage of these youths waiving their Israel Defense Forces service rose to 14 percent in 2007, up from 12.6 percent in 2006, according to figures presented to the High Court of Justice by the state in its response to a challenge to the Tal Law, which governs such deferrals.

The IDF stated in its response to the court that numerous service tracks are open to the ultra-Orthodox, and the army also said it will open a special track in intelligence for ultra-Orthodox recruits with families. It will also open a similar track in the logistics branch.

In November 2006, the High Court ruled that the Tal Law violated the principle of equality, since, among other things, its implementation was a failure, which led to almost no increase in the enlistment of the ultra-Orthodox. In addition, no alternative public service track was established.

Nevertheless, the High Court refrained from cancelling the Tal Law since its goals were deemed proper, and the court wanted to allow the state time to make significant changes to the law.

The Tal Law must be extended every few years. In July 2007, the Knesset extended it for the maximum period of five years.

Four new High Court petitions against the law have been submitted, by MK Ran Cohen (Meretz), former minister Avraham Poraz, attorney Yehuda Resler and the Movement for Quality Government.

The state, represented by senior assistant state prosecutor Avi Licht, told the court that significant changes in the implementation of the law had already begun. He noted that nearly 500 ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students are already doing alternative civilian service.

"Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox are being drafted each year," Licht said, though he failed to offer any details.

However, information provided by the IDF shows that in 2000 9.5 percent of 18-year-olds received a deferment. In 2007, the number had risen to 14 percent. Licht noted that 2.5 percent of those deferments were members of the national religious camp who study for a short time and then join the army.

Lack of civilian service option

In 2008, 53,000 yeshiva students between the ages of 18 and 41 had deferred status, up from 30,400 in 1999. The number of students in hesder yeshivas (combining military service with yeshiva studies) is growing at average rate of approximately 2,500 students per year.

One of the major reasons for the failure of the Tal Law was the Finance Ministry's failure to foster the establishment of a civilian service alternative.

The establishment of the service administration a year ago, following High Court petitions, led to 470 ultra-Orthodox men getting involved, more than double than before the administration's creation.

Licht told the court that 194 men joined the ultra-Orthodox unit of the Nahal Brigade in 2008, although it is not clear how many of them are in the national religious camp. He also said about 150 ultra-Orthodox men were serving in special units in the air force.