(photo credit: AP)
More than a year after the Tal Law went into effect, only about 180 haredi youth have volunteered for the program, Minister-without-Portfolio Ami Ayalon told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Wednesday.
Ayalon, who was appointed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to probe national service options on behalf of the cabinet, said he hoped that number would increase more than tenfold by 2010, to 2,000. By the end of 2008, he said, the program planned to surpass the 200 mark.
But beyond those students there were an estimated 55,000 yeshiva students who had not been enlisted into some framework of national service, he said.
The Tal Law, which was passed as a provisional law for five years in 2002, but was only implemented in 2007, is meant to offer yeshiva students the opportunity to take a year off from their Torah studies without losing their right to return the following year.
It exempts haredim from army service but obligates them instead to serve one full year of nonmilitary national service.
Options include working for Magen David Adom, Fire and Rescue Services or at a local authority's social services department. Afterward, the haredi man is permitted to join the work force without enlisting in the IDF.
The haredi men are permitted to volunteer part-time - four hours a day for two years - to allow them to continue to hold jobs simultaneously.
Students who continue to study full time in yeshivas are still considered exempt from national service altogether due to long-term deferments.