When the Tal Law was canceled last month, hesder yeshivas – the religious-
Zionist institutions that combine Torah study and IDF service – were an
accidental victim, set to become illegal on August 1, unless they are anchored
in new legislation.
The hesder program is generally seen as a success,
even winning the Israel Prize for its contribution to society, so Knesset
Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu)
and MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) thought their bills on the matter would
pass quickly and easily.
However, there have been bumps in the road,
leading some – like Orlev – to be concerned, while others – like Rotem – are
sure that with a little faith and political acumen, the hesder track will
The 2002 Tal Law, which was meant to encourage haredi yeshiva
students to enlist in the IDF and included clauses allowing for hesder yeshivas,
was declared unconstitutional by the High Court last month. The hesder program
was regulated by the Ministry of Defense, until “Article Nine” was added to the
final draft of the Tal Law nearly 10 years ago, officially legislating their
Now that the Tal Law seems to be out of commission, the
religious- Zionist institutions are ostensibly in their last months after an
illustrious 59-year history.
Hesder yeshiva rabbis – some of the most
influential leaders in the religious- Zionist community – failed to express
outrage or start a campaign to save their institutions. Then, when the
Ministerial Committee for Legislation took bills meant to legally anchor Zionist
yeshivas off its agenda for two months last Sunday, the rabbis remained
Yet, there is no real danger the program will disappear,
according to Association of Hesder Yeshivot Director Eitan Ozeri, which
currently represents over 8,500 student-soldiers from 68 yeshivas.
is a completely political issue, which will be solved politically,” Rabbi Yuval
Cherlow, dean of Yeshivat Hesder Petah Tikva explained. “No one opposes the
hesder framework – not the haredim and not the secular
However, MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi), who proposed
one of the two bills waiting for the Ministerial Committee’s attention, warned
against complacency and promised to take action.
“The heads of yeshivas
look behind them and see that I have their backs, but my back is against the
wall,” he lamented. “Religious-Zionists should be very worried.”
all, Orlev and Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman David
Rotem (Israel Beiteinu), who proposed the first bill on the issue, were certain
their respective proposals would get the green light from ministers. Rotem’s
spokesman even prepared a press release saying the measure had been approved,
which he is saving optimistically for May.
Yet, the ministers completely
removed the item from Sunday’s agenda, and all fingers are being pointed at a
political tactic by United Torah Judaism – specifically Knesset Finance
Committee chairman Moshe Gafni – in regards to the decision.
the Tal Law, both haredi (ultra-orthodox) and hesder yeshivas fell under “Torato
Omanuto” (Torah is his profession), the arrangement in which the defense
minister can allow a full-time Torah student to defer army service.
told The Jerusalem Post hesder yeshivas must, and should, remain in the same
legislative category as haredi yeshivas because they are both institutions for
Torah study. Anyway, he added with a grin, the Tal Law was canceled because of
inequality, and hesder students are part of that inequality because they spend
less than half of the time their secular peers spend serving in the
“That is, it’s unequal if you do not think Torah studies protect
Israel,” Gafni quipped.
The way Cherlow sees it, haredi parties prefer to
be in the same law as hesder yeshivas so they do not look like the “bad guys.”
If Torato Omanuto applies to hesder yeshivot, which are viewed in a positive
light, the public anger at the rate of haredi enlistment will be
This haredi view is exactly what Orlev, whose party has
historically represented the national-religious community, fears. By allowing
yeshivas that encourage students to serve in the IDF to fall under Torato
Omanuto, like haredi yeshivas, Zionist yeshivas allowed the government to pull
the rug out from under them, he explained.
“We cannot be part of a law
that legitimizes not serving in the army,” Orlev asserted this week, adding that
his bill adds a time limit to Torato Omanuto that would fit the hesder
arrangement, or Zionist “higher yeshivas,” in which students defer enlistment
for several years, but not haredi yeshivas, where students delay service
For the Habayit Hayehudi MK, the worst-case scenario is the
following: The hesder law does not pass because Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu wants to appease haredi coalition members.
coalition cannot come to an agreement on a Tal Law alternative by August
At that point, Orlev says, religious 18 year olds will get enlistment
notices. The haredi rabbis will tell their students to stay in yeshiva, and not
to worry – there is not enough room in prison for all of them. The vast majority
of Zionist yeshiva students, however, will go to the army, because their
ideology tells them to obey the laws of the Jewish state.
As for the
claim that if the government does not come up with an alternative to the Tal Law
in time, they will temporarily continue the legislation’s validity – Orlev
pointed out that even an extension needs a majority in the
Israel Beiteinu will have to vote against it after party leader
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman publicly stated more than once that he opposes
extending the Tal Law, and most of the opposition feels the same way, making an
extension an unrealistic option.
In short, the only way to keep hesder
yeshivas alive in the current political climate is to legally separate them from
haredi yeshivas, and pass a law as soon as possible.
If need be, Orlev
would try to get opposition MKs on his side to pass a law protecting the
yeshivas, but it could cause coalition problems.
“If the prime minister
prefers haredi parties in this issue, I’m out of the coalition,” he stated. “The
only way Netanyahu could keep everyone together is allowing [coalition MKs] to
vote freely on the bill.”
Rotem, however, is much more optimistic about
his bill’s prospects and the coalition’s future, perhaps because his faction is
five times larger than Orlev’s and carries far more political weight. The Israel
Beiteinu MK pointed out that High Court Justice Hanan Meltzer said in his
verdict on the Tal Law that hesder yeshivas should not be banned.
matter is in my hands – and my hands are excellent,” Rotem quipped, confident
his bill would pass.
After all, he explained, hesder yeshiva students
exemplify Israel Beiteinu’s ideology: they serve in the army, are Zionists, and
generally go on to work and pay taxes. The hesder bill will definitely pass
because the program has proved its effectiveness, he said.
outlook on the legal status of hesder yeshivas can be summed up by a famous
quote by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov: “All the world is a narrow bridge, and the
most important thing is not to fear at all.”
Despite the narrow,
precarious legislative bridge on which the national-religious yeshivas are
standing, Rotem remains fearless.
“So the haredi parties will try to
cause trouble. So what? I can handle it,” he said.Jeremy Sharon
contributed to this report.