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Israeli High Court Rules Yeshiva Students Must Serve in Army

Feb. 22, 2012

The Israeli High Court of Justice ruled late Tuesday evening to accept a petition against the so-called "Tal Law," which postpones military service for yeshiva students.

In a majority ruling of six justices against three, the High Court determined that the law, whose full title is the ‘Deferral of Service for Yeshiva Students for whom Torah is their Craft Law’ is not constitutional, and therefore the Knesset cannot extend it in its present form when it expires on August 1st.

The Tal Law was enacted in 2002. Prior to 2002, yeshiva students, although not technically exempt from military service, customarily postponed their enlistment every year until they received an age or parental exemption. This situation, while in practice from the early days of the State of Israel, was viewed by many as undemocratic, unjust and unequal. Unlike other exemptions from military service given to some groups in the state (Bedouin, Arabs, and others), it was based on a ministerial order and not specified in the law.

The problem was compounded by the fact that this was not just an exemption utilized by students for the purpose of pursuing their studies. All traditionally Orthodox Jews are opposed to the state's existence and refuse on principle to serve in its army, and it became clear that many of them were using the yeshiva exemption as a means of avoiding the draft. Thus even young men with families who desperately needed income were staying in school indefinitely, forgoing their rights to work and support their families, so as not to join the army and further the Zionist goals.

The self-sacrifice of the Orthodox community in their dedication to the anti-Zionist ideal is hard to imagine. Most of the Orthodox in the Holy Land live in abject poverty, subsisting on charity funds collected from Jews in other countries.

From the secular Zionist viewpoint, the situation was intolerable. Something had to be done to integrate the Orthodox into the army, the workforce and greater Israeli society. They felt this to be especially urgent due to the high growth rate of the Orthodox community. In 1948, when the deal between the Zionists and the Orthodox was originally concluded, only 400 men utilized the yeshiva exemption. By 1968 the number had grown to 800. In 1999 there were 30,414 exempted yeshiva students.

In terms of percentage of the total Israeli population, in 1974 2.4% of the soldiers eligible for the army that year were exempt because they were yeshiva members. By 1999, the number had reached 9.2%. By comparison, in the year 2025 the orthodox sector in Israel is expected to reach 12.4% of the total population, whereas the children of this sector would reach 22.4%.

The Tal Committee was formed in 1999, and by 2002 the law they had devised was passed by the Knesset. The bill enabled a continuation of the exempts to yeshiva members subject to the detailed conditions within the bill. At the age of 22 the yeshiva member would receive a year of decision in which he would be able to choose if he would want to continue his studies or if he would rather go out to work. Those who would choose to go out and work would need to choose between a minimalist army service of four months and reserve duties according to the army's needs, or a civilian service of one year.

In 2005, the state admitted in a response to a petition to the Supreme Court, that the Tal law had failed to change enlistment arrangements for Orthodox Jews. Only a few dozen Orthodox Jews (the so-called "Nahal Haredi") enlisted to the army as a result of the Tal law. The number of exemptions rose to 41,450. It was clear that the overwhelming majority were choosing to stay in the yeshiva system indefinitely so as to avoid the army.

Government watchdog the Movement for Quality Government petitioned the High Court in 2007 against a Knesset vote that extended the law for five years. It was argued that the law was not fulfilling its purpose. In fact, the Knesset did extend the law, and it is set to expire again on August 1, 2012. Now the High Court has ruled that Knesset may not extend the law again. Lawmakers will try to come up with a more effective way to force Orthodox Jews into the army.

Our comment:

Torah Jews around the world must raise their voices in protest at this new effort to force our brothers living under the Israeli government into abandoning their religious principles. Torah Jews consider army service absolutely forbidden, because the army is the wing of the state that actually carries out the conquering and maintaining of Jewish control over the Holy Land, which the Torah forbids.

Torah Jews wish to live in peace with all peoples of the world, and G-d's decree of exile forbids them from taking any military action. We are waiting for G-d's redemption. We are conscientious objectors to the Israeli army, and it is a shame that the Israeli government has never granted us the dignity of freedom to practice the original Judaism, and be exempt from the army on principle. Rather, they have, up till now, forced us to use the subterfuge of yeshiva studies to exempt ourselves, causing untold impoverishment and suffering to our communities. Now they are preparing to take away even this exemption, so that Torah Jews may have to choose between going to prison or sacrificing their principles.

There is no reason why the Israeli government should not completely exempt Orthodox anti-Zionist Jews from the army, just as they exempt Arabs and Bedouins.

It should be noted that of the traditionally Orthodox Jews living in the Holy Land, there are two divisions. There are some who eschew any connection with the government, refusing to vote in its elections or accept any of its funds. Others have adopted the compromise of participation in government to ensure that their communities' needs are met. True Torah Jews is affiliated with the first community. But even this second community does not recognize the state as legitimate and is opposed to its existence. Indeed, members of both divisions of Orthodoxy uniformly refuse to participate in the army at all costs.