Our collective memory is short. Just over a month ago the nation was in turmoil
over the need to stop the wholesale exemptions from military or national service
granted to able-bodied ultra-Orthodox men. Infighting resulted in the breakup of
the Plessner Committee, tasked with finding a substitute for the Tal Law, which
the Supreme Court ruled in February of this year to be unlawful because it
discriminated against the majority of Israeli men who do serve in the
Just months after joining the government, Kadima abandoned the
coalition and returned to the opposition, purportedly in protest against Prime
Minister Netanyahu’s refusal to pass a law that would force all ultra-Orthodox
men of draft age to enlist. In the run-up to the August 1 deadline, when the Tal
Law officially expired, news commentators proffered doomsday forecasts
predicting that a civil war would break out if attempts were made to forcibly
draft haredi men.
But over a month has passed since the law expired and
Israeli society seems to be suffering a case of collective amnesia. The dire
need to begin to enlist at least some of more than 60,000 haredi men who are
presently postponing their military or national service indefinitely has drifted
out of the public consciousness.
Tens of thousands of haredi men – who
should be performing their national duty before moving on to the labor market or
receiving some form of job training so that they can become productive citizens
of the Jewish state – continue to seek shelter from the real world by devoting
years usually spent gaining professional training to the endless study of the
Torah. These men and their families, whose numbers are growing faster than any
other group within Israeli society, will inevitably become an intolerable burden
on our welfare state.
The government’s do-nothing policy has a number of
First, it sends out a distressing message.
Israeli citizens are liable to lose confidence in the democratic process. What
is the sense of bothering to vote if politicians sidestep the really hard
choices they are elected to make? On a more practical level, with the expiration
of the Tal Law the National Service Administration, the body responsible for
coordinating national service, is no longer permitted to enlist haredi men. The
head of the administration, Sar-Shalom Jerby, told The Jerusalem Post
that he receives calls every day from dozens of haredi men interested in
volunteering for national service. But he is forced to turn them away because
there is no legal framework in place empowering him to register them.
special arrangement reached between the Attorney- General’s office and Defense
Minister Ehud Barak has enabled the 2,000 haredi men enrolled in national
service before August 1 to finish. But no new candidates can be accepted. As a
result, dozens of public and private organizations are in desperate need of
volunteers. ZAKA, Magen David Adom, the Senior Citizens’ Ministry, Yad Sarah,
the police, the Prisons Service and fire fighters all could benefit from haredi
Another beneficial aspect of national service for haredim –
that it gets them off the dole and into the job market – has also been lost.
Eighty-five percent of haredi men either get a job or get some form of job
training after finishing national service, according Jerby. Therefore, it is
imperative that the government pass legislation that replaces the Tal Law. Until
that happens, an emergency directive must be issued to ensure that the hundreds
of haredi men interested in performing national service can do so.
the Supreme Court struck down the Tal Law, its intention was to force the
government to draft a better law that would more effectively encourage haredi
men to become productive members of society. Unfortunately, since the law
expired last month the situation has gotten worse.
The government must
act to advance the integration of haredi men into the workforce, and it must act