Dozens of haredi yeshiva students are being turned away from the civilian service program every day because of the legal freeze on recruitment following the expiration of the “Tal Law” on August 1, the service’s directorate says.
The civilian service was established under the framework of the 2002 Tal Law, which also permitted full-time yeshiva students to indefinitely postpone their military service, and was designed to provide part of the solution to the low rate of haredi participation in national service programs.
Since the law’s expiration, however, the civilian service administration has been legally unable to accept new recruits.
“People are continually calling for haredim to perform national service, but the program which exists at the moment – the civilian service – is frozen,” director Sar-Shalom Gerbi told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Gerbi said that dozens of people call every day wishing to sign up for the program but are turned away because of the legal lacuna that the expiration of the Tal Law left, preventing the enlistment of more participants.
He added that the suspension of the program is allowing extremist leaders in the haredi community to claim that the civilian service was a ruse by the state to pave the way to forcibly draft the ultra-Orthodox into the army.
In addition to the freeze in recruitment, the current number of participants is dropping rapidly because inductees for the program join at the beginning of every month, as recruits simultaneously complete their service each month and thus leave the program.
Since August 1, 255 men have completed their service and left the program, leaving 1,824 in the civilian service as of October.
The decrease in active recruits is now causing problems for the different organizations and state bodies that utilize civilian service volunteers, including the health, welfare and emergency services, among others.
This week, Gerbi wrote to Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz, who has ministerial oversight for the civilian service, asking that the situation be addressed through a temporary government order.
Efforts to draft a new law allowing for continued civilian service recruitment after the expiration of the Tal Law were unsuccessful, and the early dissolution of the Knesset ahead of general elections means that the program will remain frozen for several months unless a temporary solution is found.
An arrangement was nevertheless reached enabling those currently in the program to finish their service under the original conditions.
“If the standstill which the program finds itself continues until after the elections and the establishment of a new government, it will cause serious and possible irreversible damage to civilian service for haredim,” Gerbi wrote in his letter.
“The current situation is likely to damage the significant achievements we have made within the haredi sector, in terms of the public awareness of the program in the ultra-Orthodox community, with regard to the numbers of people serving and the understandings we reached with the haredi leadership,” Gerbi added.
Herschkowitz, an advocate of the program, said in response that ensuring continued recruitment was a national mission and that efforts are underway to formulate a government decision to provide a temporary solution to the problem until new legislation can be passed.
Average enlistment in 2012 in the civilian service was 70 people a month, although in July – the final opportunity to volunteer before the Tal Law expired – 200 haredi men signed up for the program.
Before the expiration of the law, the directorate had claimed that it was set to meet previously established government targets for the recruitment of 2,400 haredi men by 2015.