The Civilian and National Service Authority staged an event on Tuesday in Jerusalem to honor over 600 haredi volunteers at national service programs, attended by Interior Minister Eli Yishai, former chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and other public figures.

There are currently 3,885 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 Authority. Approximately 75 percent of recruits serve in the welfare field.

The Tal Law, which 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 manner.

A one-year course entails 40 hours of service per week, whereas the two year course is 20 hours a week.

Tuesday’s recognition ceremony comes as a replacement for the Tal Law – struck down by the High Court of Justice earlier this year as unconstitutional – is being debated in a special committee in the Knesset.

Yishai, who has argued against replacing the Tal Law with legislation that would forcibly draft haredi men into national service programs, reiterated his stance at the ceremony, saying that anyone who wishes to study Torah must be allowed to do so.

The Keshev Committee, tasked with proposing alternatives to the Tal Law, is seeking a way to “undermine Torah study,” Yishai claimed. He added that the only way to increase haredi participation in military or civilian service was is increase the budget for it, and said that up until now the IDF has not wanted to draft haredim anyway, fearing that large numbers of ultra-Orthodox men entering the army would change its character.

Addressing the ranks of haredi volunteers, Civilian and National Service Authority head Sar-Shalom Jerbi also spoke out strongly against any forcible draft of haredim into national service.

“Integrating haredim into national service needs to be done through understanding, not coercion,” said Jerbi.

Haim, a 28-year-old from Bnei Brak who attended the ceremony, said he had volunteered for civilian service in order to both contribute to society and enter the workforce.

He signed up for a two-year course of working in care for the elderly, four hours a day. He is also studying civil engineering part time and spends an hour a day learning in yeshiva.

“It’s important to give back to society and do something for the country,” said Haim, adding that many of his friends had joined up at the same time as he did.

A number of other dignitaries spoke during the event, including Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz and Rabbi Yitzhak Dovid Grossman, a member of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate and founder of the Migdal Ohr network of educational institutions.

Speaking about this week’s Torah portion, Grossman told the volunteers that the spies sent out by Moses to report on the land of Israel erred because they did not want to descend into the material world, which would be necessary once the entered the country.

But, he said, the point of existence is to enter into the physical and turn it into something spiritual.

“All of you, through your service, have served as an example and have sanctified God’s name in so doing. You have brought the Jewish people closer to their heritage and have brought spirituality into the physical realm,” said Grossman.

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