The bombshell the High Court dropped on the political and religious status quo
on Tuesday night in declaring the Tal Law unconstitutional seems likely to cause
huge reverberations throughout Israeli society.
But the specter of
civilian rebellion and complete societal breakdown due to irreconcilable
ideological beliefs between secular, national-religious and ultra- Orthodox sectors may not be as inevitable as is
The most central question is: What will come after
the Tal Law? This rather depends on whether or not the minimum demands of the
Zionist public and political parties regarding the notion of equality in the
share of the burden of military service will be compatible with the minimum
demands of the ultra-Orthodox public and political parties regarding the ability
of those who wish to study Torah full time to do so or not.
Omunato “Torah is his profession” framework, an intrinsic part of the Tal Law
that provides for haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men to indefinitely defer military
service while studying in yeshiva full time with the financial support of the
state, appears to be no longer acceptable to the broader public.
it is the legal and (quasi) constitutional objections of the High Court,
political objections, or public anger, the Zionist majority does not seem to be
in a mood to continue serving in the army while paying for others not
On the other hand, the “Torah is his profession” idea is deeply
important for the haredi community and there is little indication that it is
willing to give it up. The only official response coming from United Torah
Judaism is that the High Court decision will be studied but that those studying
within the Torato Omunato framework will continue to study Torah in any future
Shas leader Eli Yishai has also pointed to the “clear and
wellknown contribution of those studying the Torah to the state.”
there room for compromise? Possibly, but it seems unlikely that the slogan of
“equality in the burden of military service” will be fully realized anytime
Neither the government nor the public at large want to criminalize
the approximately 60,000 kollel students come August 1, when the Tal Law’s death
rattle will be heard and the unloved piece of legislation will expire. The IDF
doesn’t have enough space in its prisons and is not able to absorb a deluge of
thousands of kollel students either.
But the haredi parties are not in a
particularly strong position either. Public sentiment is hostile to the very
idea of Torato Omunato, and antagonistic towards a society that in the past few
months has been identified with discrimination against women, spitting at
children and the general imposition of stringent religious practices by the
haredi minority on the secular majority.
Elections are also in the
offing, so the leverage the haredi parties have over the government is reduced,
especially when considering the current populist mood sweeping through the
Knesset and the country as a whole. Further, the prime minister does not have a
majority in the government coalition to preserve the status quo, given the
opposition of Israel Beiteinu, Independence and Habayit Hayehudi to Torato
However, a spokesman for Shas has said that the party will work
towards an agreement in which legislation will be drafted that will to all
intents and purposes preserve the idea of Torato Omunato but also create a
mechanism for greater inspection of those who are supposed to be studying in
Those for who yeshiva study is a mere excuse to get out
of military service will be drafted, he said, while others will be allowed to
continue with their studies.
A mild form of mandatory national or
civilian service for those not drafted into the IDF may also be part of any new
legislation. The Independence Party has talked of an eight-12- month national
service program for those the IDF does not select for military service, along
with relatively relaxed parameters for haredi men who insist that they will only
serve in the national or civilian service programs.
inducements, such as increased salaries for those serving in the army for two to
three years that would be dedicated towards paying higher education or
vocational training fees, may also be part of any new law.
ideas include provision for a certain number of elite Torah scholars to remain
in full-time study, ranging from one to three thousand, although the principle
that military service is for the majority and Torah study for the minority of
the haredi community is still anathema to most haredi leaders.
politicians currently involved in legislative efforts to create alternatives to
the Tal Law appreciate that forcibly drafting thousands of haredim into the army
will simply not work. Talk of civil rebellion by haredi leaders may be
hyperbolic but taking coercive measures may simply reenforce the community’s
perception that the state is trying to secularize them, prevent them from
learning Torah and cut off their pe’ot.
This is what conservative
elements in the community have been warning of and the political center-ground
is therefore wary of playing into their hands.
Additionally, the rate of
haredi enlistment into the army has risen rapidly over the past five years,
although from an admittedly low base. In 2007, fewer than 300 ultra-Orthodox men
were drafted into the army, whereas nearly 1,300 enlisted in 2011, an increase
of more than 300 percent.
More than 1,000 haredim signed up to national
or civilian service programs in 2011 as well, which, combined with the IDF
enlistment figures, represents approximately 27% of the potential haredi draft
in 2011 of 8,500 men.
There is a concern that coercive measures in new
legislation will roll back these gains.
Ultimately, it seems that neither
side will be able to realize its publicly declared, maximalist goals and some
form of compromise is likely to prevail.