Ever since the Supreme Court ruled, two months ago, that the “Tal Law” is
unconstitutional and should not be extended, the country has been up in
The issue of drafting ultra-Orthodox (haredi) yeshiva students into
the IDF – one that the law was meant to address in a gradual and coordinated
manner – has been on the public agenda for quite some time. Debate over the
issue has only intensified since the Supreme Court ruling – in whose wake the
law will expire on August 1 – due to a sense that this time a clear and
unequivocal decision is needed.
Whatever conclusion is ultimately reached
by our decision-makers and elected officials, I would like to note the important
role played by Israel’s academic sphere in the collective effort to achieve a
more equitable society, and to strike a proper balance between the various
elements that make up the social mosaic. In my view, the right direction to take
– the most effective means of ensuring greater social justice and social equity
– is that of creating a better-educated society.
Everyone knows that a
well-established, quality system of higher education such as Israel’s, one that
imparts knowledge and confers academic credentials, is crucial for career
development and social mobility. On the other hand – from a perspective of
universal access – the system can create economic incentives and offer
attractive conditions to preferred populations.
Making higher education
accessible to the ultra-Orthodox sector is essential to ensure this sector’s
integration in society. In fact, the higher education system is already adopting
the mode of action I noted above by creating special programs for the
ultra-Orthodox and by offering incentives and encouraging those who have served
in the IDF – particularly in combat and combat-support capacities – to pursue a
The Council for Higher Education in Israel, under the
leadership of its Planning and Budgeting Committee chairman, Prof. Manuel
Trajtenberg, has drawn up a comprehensive plan to make higher education
accessible to the ultra-Orthodox public by opening macharim (haredi frameworks)
that aim to reach a target of 27,000 ultra-Orthodox students, ultimately
amounting to 9 percent of the entire student population – a representation
similar to that of the haredi sector within the population as a whole. The
activity engendered by this plan will be based on existing campuses in Jerusalem
and Bnei Brak that were pioneered by Bar-Ilan University as far back as 1999 –
campuses on which 6,090 ultra-Orthodox students are currently studying. To
achieve this ambitious goal, the campuses and curricula were designed to be
fully compatible with the lifestyle of haredi-sector students, so as to
facilitate the full academic integration of haredim in a manner respectful of
their way of life and with due attention to their needs and aspirations. This,
however, is no longer enough. What we need at present is for all of Israel’s
universities to mobilize for the task. And, accordingly, study programs for the
ultra-Orthodox are being proposed by all of the relevant institutions.
addition to this effort to increase accessibility, and in recognition of those
who have made a contribution to the state and devoted years of their lives to
its defense and security, it is important that we carry on with the worthy
project of offering scholarships to students who have served as combatants in
the IDF, and of accommodating, wherever possible, those students who continue to
contribute via their IDF reserve duty.
These financial incentives for
students who have served in the IDF should ideally be funded not solely through
the generosity of donors, but also via state budgeting in the form an organized
program, as has been done in the case of the macharim.
I am convinced
that a combination of these two modes of action will help make Israeli society
more just and equitable, while also exposing the ultra-Orthodox population to
the value of contributing to society and to the state through military and
national service – in a consensual manner.
The writer is a professor and
the president of Bar-Ilan University.