The Keshev Committee, tasked with replacing the “Tal Law,” heard several
different proposals on Thursday for solutions to the problem of the low rate of
haredi enlistment in national service programs.
Shahar Ilan, the deputy
director of the religious freedom lobbying group Hiddush, said that financial
sanctions should be leveled at ultra-Orthodox men who refuse to serve by
excluding them from receiving stipends and other benefits currently allocated to
Renegade Shas MK Haim Amsalem and head of the Am Shalem political
movement proposed instead that an intensive, four-year yeshiva study course be
established and recognized as a form of national service.
to stand up to the rigors of the program, Amsalem said, would have to complete
their national service in the IDF or in civilian service programs in the police
or Border Police.
Ilan began his presentation with tough words on the
possibility of cooperation from the haredi leadership with the goal of
obligatory national service for all.
“Theirs is a rejectionist front,” he
said. “Anyone who claims that there is an authoritative [ultra-Orthodox] leader
who is prepared to accept quotas [on the number of yeshiva students able to gain
national service exemptions] or who encourages students to serve is invited to
present him,” he continued.
According to Ilan, the de facto head of the
haredi community Rabbi Aharon Shteinman, considered a relative moderate, has led
the battle against obligatory service.
Hiddush’s proposals include
obligatory service for all citizens, with a three-percent quota for exemptions
for outstanding Torah scholars from each yearly intake of men into the national
service system. Currently, the percentage of yeshiva students getting exceptions
from national service through Torah study is 13% of the national
Ilan also proposed economic sanctions for yeshiva students
refusing to perform national service, specifically that they not be given state
funding allocated to yeshivas, discounts from national insurance, the income
support the state provides to yeshiva students or housing benefits. He also said
that they should not able to work in the civil service.
teach draft evasion should not receive a penny,” Ilan demanded, adding that he
has already testified on four other committees dealing with the issue of haredi
enlistment in the army.
“This committee has an historic opportunity,” he
said. “If it is wasted, it’s possible that the next committee won’t be able to
redress the situation.”
Amsalem’s proposal for a state-recognized
Torah-study-as-national- service program is, he said, based on the twin values of
the importance of learning Torah along with the equally important notion of
sharing the burden of service equally among the state’s
According to his plan, an effective system would be established
to identify enrolled full-time yeshiva students who are not actually studying,
in order to draft them into military or civilian service, including service in
the police and Border Police forces.
Anyone wishing to apply to the
national service Torah track would be able to do so, although Amsalem estimated
that at least 25% of applicants would not make the grade for the initial entry
requirements and would go directly to military or civilian service, while
another 50% would drop out during the duration of the course.
to Amsalem, the Torah track would be designated specifically to “serious,
select” students whose entry to and continued participation in the course would
be dependent on fulfilling certain criteria, including “an appropriate
background,” dedication to “extended Torah study,” “fear of God,” and a “proper
level of religious knowledge.”
Amsalem said that the program would
include a committee of rabbis and inspectors who would establish entry
requirements. They would also conduct strict checks for both the student and the
Torah institutes in which the course is conducted, with heavy fines being
imposed on students and institutes that do not fulfill their commitments. Any
student not fulfilling the terms of the course would be transferred to military
or civilian service to complete his national service requirements.
various committee members, including chairman Yohanan Plesner (Kadima),
coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) and MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beytenu),
seemed less than impressed with the proposal.
Boaz Nul, one of the
leaders of the obligatory national service campaign, was also present at the
hearings, and expressed severe skepticism as to the sincerity of the committee’s
He claimed that the Likud-Kadima coalition was plotting to
exchange the Tal Law with legislation that, according to Nul, would fail to
bring about the desired change.
The afternoon session of the Keshev
hearings was closed to the press, but speaking with The Jerusalem Post, Nul said
that he expressed to the committee his concerns that the coalition is plotting
to establish minimum quotas for haredi enlistment to national service programs,
in accordance with proposals made by Elkin, regardless of the recommendations of
the Keshev committee tasked with replacing the Tal Law.
Such quotas, he
said, would never be met and would constitute the continuation of the current
situation in which the overwhelming majority of ultra- Orthodox men eligible for
national service do not serve.
Also present at the hearing were
representatives of the Arab community, Said Abu Zalem, director of the Northern
District court system, and Ali Zahalka, head of a social and educational NGO in
They stated that the Arab sector is interested in sharing in
the burden of national service, but argued that the absence of sufficient
incentives for those completing national service in the Arab sector is one of
the main reasons for the low rate of participation by the Arab community in
civilian service programs.