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The Jerusalem Post - Israel News
 
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The Tal Law
By MOSHE KAVEH
05/16/2012
The most effective means of ensuring greater social justice and social equity is that of creating a better-educated society.
 
Ever since the Supreme Court ruled, two months ago, that the “Tal Law” is unconstitutional and should not be extended, the country has been up in arms.

The issue of drafting ultra-Orthodox (haredi) yeshiva students into the IDF – one that the law was meant to address in a gradual and coordinated manner – has been on the public agenda for quite some time. Debate over the issue has only intensified since the Supreme Court ruling – in whose wake the law will expire on August 1 – due to a sense that this time a clear and unequivocal decision is needed.

Whatever conclusion is ultimately reached by our decision-makers and elected officials, I would like to note the important role played by Israel’s academic sphere in the collective effort to achieve a more equitable society, and to strike a proper balance between the various elements that make up the social mosaic. In my view, the right direction to take – the most effective means of ensuring greater social justice and social equity – is that of creating a better-educated society.

Everyone knows that a well-established, quality system of higher education such as Israel’s, one that imparts knowledge and confers academic credentials, is crucial for career development and social mobility. On the other hand – from a perspective of universal access – the system can create economic incentives and offer attractive conditions to preferred populations.

Making higher education accessible to the ultra-Orthodox sector is essential to ensure this sector’s integration in society. In fact, the higher education system is already adopting the mode of action I noted above by creating special programs for the ultra-Orthodox and by offering incentives and encouraging those who have served in the IDF – particularly in combat and combat-support capacities – to pursue a higher education.

The Council for Higher Education in Israel, under the leadership of its Planning and Budgeting Committee chairman, Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, has drawn up a comprehensive plan to make higher education accessible to the ultra-Orthodox public by opening macharim (haredi frameworks) that aim to reach a target of 27,000 ultra-Orthodox students, ultimately amounting to 9 percent of the entire student population – a representation similar to that of the haredi sector within the population as a whole. The activity engendered by this plan will be based on existing campuses in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak that were pioneered by Bar-Ilan University as far back as 1999 – campuses on which 6,090 ultra-Orthodox students are currently studying. To achieve this ambitious goal, the campuses and curricula were designed to be fully compatible with the lifestyle of haredi-sector students, so as to facilitate the full academic integration of haredim in a manner respectful of their way of life and with due attention to their needs and aspirations. This, however, is no longer enough. What we need at present is for all of Israel’s universities to mobilize for the task. And, accordingly, study programs for the ultra-Orthodox are being proposed by all of the relevant institutions.

In addition to this effort to increase accessibility, and in recognition of those who have made a contribution to the state and devoted years of their lives to its defense and security, it is important that we carry on with the worthy project of offering scholarships to students who have served as combatants in the IDF, and of accommodating, wherever possible, those students who continue to contribute via their IDF reserve duty.

These financial incentives for students who have served in the IDF should ideally be funded not solely through the generosity of donors, but also via state budgeting in the form an organized program, as has been done in the case of the macharim.

I am convinced that a combination of these two modes of action will help make Israeli society more just and equitable, while also exposing the ultra-Orthodox population to the value of contributing to society and to the state through military and national service – in a consensual manner.

The writer is a professor and the president of Bar-Ilan University.
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