Against the background of political machinations and debates about how to
increase enlistment into national service from the ultra-Orthodox sector, almost
200 haredi men who enlisted into the state civilian service program in June
gathered in Jerusalem on Thursday for their induction ceremony.
Law,” which was passed in 2002 and provided a legal framework for haredi men to
indefinitely defer military service through full-time yeshiva study, also
allowed them to enlist on a voluntary basis in one- or two-year civilian-service
programs, and fulfill their national service requirements in this
The civilian service directorate however was only established in
Speaking at the event, director of the Civilian and National
Service Administration Sar- Shalom Gerbi described the program as a
revolutionary success, “born of a gradual process of dialogue and understanding
with community leaders.”
Gerbi also told the recruits that the purpose of
the program is to provide part of the solution to equally sharing the burden of
national service throughout society, but said that full equality in the burden
is not possible.
“Is the service of a soldier who opens the gate at the
IDF headquarters the same as a combat soldier in Golani?” Gerbi asked
rhetorically. “But we can arrive at a situation in which a greater number of
people bear the burden [of national service],” he continued, touting the
civilian service programs as one of the answers to the issue.
reassured the recruits that the program is not designed to change their haredi
“I emphasize that any haredi person who enters civilian service
[programs] will come out as a haredi,” Gerbi declared.
approximately 70 haredi recruits enlist to civilian service programs every
Despite the increased numbers for June, the highest on record,
criticism has been leveled at the civilian service authority by the Hiddush
religious freedom lobbying group, which said there has been a significant drop
in enlistment in 2012 over 2011 figures.
The organization labeled the
publication of the June figures as “deception” and said that the reason for the
increase is the concern that the period of civilian service will be lengthened
by new proposals to replace the Tal Law.
Citing numbers published by the
Knesset Center for Research and Information a week ago, Hiddush pointed out that
average enlistment in 2011 was 130 recruits a month, which has fallen to 70 a
month in 2012.
Gerbi said however that the main reasons for the decline
in recruits is that a government decision lowering the age of national service
exemption from 35 to 28 came into effect this year, as well as automatic
exemptions for anyone with three or more children.
He added that the
civilian service was set to meet previously established government targets for
the recruitment of 2,400 haredi men by 2015.
The majority of recruits at
the induction event were from various hassidic streams, clad in black hats, long
black coats and bearing long, flowing payot. In addition, there were haredi men
from the non-hassidic sector along with members of the Sephardi
Netaniel Strauber, 25, comes from the non-hassidic sector of
haredi society, is married and lives in Jerusalem’s Bayit Vegan neighborhood. He
decided to enter the two-year civilian service track, which involves four hours
of service a day.
Until now he has been studying in yeshiva or kollel and
is also enrolled at the Ono Academic College in Jerusalem where he studies law,
which he will continue with during his time in the civilian service
Although Netanel studied in the haredi school system, which
teaches very little core curriculum subjects, he nevertheless spent time
studying and passing the matriculation and psychometric exams at the same time
in order to be accepted into his law degree.
Netaniel said although he
believes the ideal in life is Torah study, he also wanted to be able to support
himself and could not rely on others to do so in the long term.
don’t do some form of national service then no law firm will take me on when I
qualify,” he said, adding that he feels a responsibility to contribute to
society as well.
Netanel also warned of what he called the dangers of
instituting obligatory service on the haredi sector, saying that the yeshiva
spiritual advisers are already telling students not to enlist even if a law is
passed mandating service for them.
According to the Civilian Service
Administration’s statistics, there are currently 3,772 haredim who have finished
or are currently serving in civilian service programs, in the fields of welfare,
public security, public health, immigration absorption and environmental
protection, according to the Civilian and National Service
Approximately 75 percent of recruits serve in the welfare
Approximately 1,860 haredi volunteers are currently serving in the
Moshe, 28, a Gur Hassid living in Hatzor Haglilit in
the North, said he was volunteering to the program because he felt it is
important to contribute to society, but added that after he finishes the course
he will likely go back to full-time yeshiva study.
His wife is currently
studying in college and will look for employment when she completes her studies.
Moshe, who will work with mentally handicapped children during his civilian
service, said that for him Torah study is the highest calling, although he added
that he would continue to do volunteer work after the completion of his
Eliezer, a 23-year-old from a Jerusalemite community established
in the nineteenth century, said that he volunteered in order to be able to go to
work following his service.
After completing his civilian service track,
which will involve working with at-risk youth, he said he intends to enroll in
an academic college in order to gain a professional qualification, most likely
in computing or civil engineering.
“I’ve learned in yeshiva or kollel
until now, but I need to be able to support myself and my family at some stage
so I need to do this kind of program,” Eliezer said.