The High Court of Justice issued an interim injunction against the state on Tuesday, prohibiting it from transferring money to yeshivas for approximately 3,000 students due to the payments’ lack of legal standing.
The decision marks the first time the High Court has decisively intervened on the issue of ultra-Orthodox enlistment since the “Tal Law” expired at the end of July 2012. Draft equality groups are proclaiming the move a signal of the court’s intent should the Knesset delay much longer over legislation for drafting haredi men into military or national service.
Following the decision, Finance Minister and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said in a short statement that the ministry would halt the payment of the stipends to the students in question in accordance with the High Court injunction.
Bayit Yehudi chairman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett criticized the decision, saying that it made the task of integrating haredi men into the army more difficult. The court should have waited till the Knesset finished its work on the government legislation on the issue, which is currently in committee Haredi MKs fiercely denounced the decision, and said that the court was interfering with the legislative process, while describing the institution as “an enemy of the haredi public” that is sowing the seeds of civil war.
Several lobbying groups, including the Movement for Quality Government in Israel and Hiddush – For Religious Freedom and Equality, have petitioned the High Court to prevent the state paying the monthly stipends that yeshiva students were entitled to under the framework of the Tal Law. The state continued to pay these stipends, which for unmarried students amounted to NIS 500 a month in 2012 but have since been reduced to NIS 250, despite the fact that there was no legal framework for the provision of such funds.
The High Court on Tuesday ruled that any yeshiva students from the 1994 and 1995 cohorts, as well as from the first half of the 1996 cohort, who have received enlistment orders but who were given mass exemptions by the justice minister can no longer receive these stipends.
It is believed that some 3,000 haredi men fall into this category.
Since August 2013, the justice minister has, however, provided mass deferrals for those haredim who received an enlistment date, on the basis that the Knesset is still dealing with their legislation that will define their status vis-a-vis the IDF and national service obligations.
But the High Court ruled that such people can no longer be provided with the state-funded stipend.
The court did not rule on the demands of the petitioners that all ultra-Orthodox men who are eligible for military service be drafted, given the absence of a legal framework to exempt them, and gave the state until March 31 to provide an update on legislative efforts.
Hiddush welcomed the court’s decision to halt the transfer of funds, saying that it showed that there was a limit to its patience on the matter.
“Since the Tal Law expired a year-and-a-half ago, the state has broken the law by not drafting yeshiva students,” Hiddush director Uri Regev said.
The Movement for Quality Government described the decision as “unprecedented.”
It said that the court had acknowledged that the state had continued to break the law, and Tuesday’s decision put serious pressure on the government to pass legislation on the issue.
Dov Lipman, Yesh Atid MK and rabbi, welcomed the ruling, saying that current situation could not continue. He called for the rapid advancement of the government legislation being deliberated in committee.
But Shas chairman Arye Deri heavily criticized the decision, saying the High Court justices had “joined those persecuting the Torah world by grossly interfering with the sensitive legislative process currently being examined by the legislative house.”
He claimed that since the defense minister legally deferred the enlistment dates of those students who received draft orders, “there is no connection between enlistment deferral and yeshiva budgets.”
He added that the court was joining “the slander and incitement against those who study Torah in the Land of Israel.”
Senior haredi MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) spoke out harshly against the decision, and said that the High Court was “recognized as an enemy of the haredi public in its discriminatory ruling.”
UTJ MK Ya’acov Litzman also heavily criticized the decision, and accused the court of circumventing the legislature and imposing its personal opinion on the issue that is currently under debate in a Knesset committee.
“It is extremely serious that the High Court sees itself as above the law and is determining the fate of yeshiva students whose draft referrals were done in accordance with the law by the defense minister,” said the MK.
“Yeshiva students who study Torah fulltime will continue in their studies, and no power, economic or criminal, will prevent them from doing so, not now and not in the future,” he declared.
MK Yisrael Eichler, also of UTJ, said the High Court justices were “working in the service of terrorist Reform organizations, which seek to create an atmosphere of bloody civil war.
“They don’t want haredim in the army. The High Court rulers just do not want them to study Torah,” Eichler raged, claiming in addition that the court would not withhold funds to universities or other institutions in order to pressure the Knesset.
“The court also wouldn’t dare to force Arabs into civilian service,” he said.
“The haredi public despises the enemies of the Torah, the Reform. Even if we are forced to go underground, we will teach self-sacrifice and be victorious over the rulers from the High Court who are persecuting the Torah and those who study it,” Eichler said.