high court justices 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has promised United Torah Judaism that the coalition will support a five-year extension of the Tal Law.
Although the law, which allows yeshiva students to defer their army service, was not canceled by the Supreme Court in its ruling last Thursday, the court stressed that the law ran against civil equality and may be considered unconstitutional in the future.
While official coalition talks between UTJ and Kadima are to resume only in a couple of weeks when both Olmert and the senior UTJ rabbis return from their respective trips to the US, most of the coalition agreement has already been prepared. The main concession reported so far has been an increase in child benefits, perhaps in the form of a monthly "welfare payment" to families with four or more children. Senior UTJ sources said yesterday that another clause in the agreement, already agreed upon with Olmert adviser and representative to the talks Ovad Yehezkel, was that the Tal Law would be extended for another five years when it runs out in 2007.
Originally the law was supposed to facilitate army or national service by yeshiva students in their mid-20s, but due to the lack of necessary frameworks it has become a legal device that allows 50,000 young haredi men to remain outside the IDF.
The lack of these frameworks was the main reason given by the Supreme Court to allow the law to stand, but Chief Justice Aharon Barak stressed in his decision that, "if change won't be made, there is a serious risk of the law becoming unconstitutional."
UTJ has no interest in "alternative service frameworks" in the IDF or any other part of the public service. It simply sees the Tal Law as a way of preserving the 58-year-old status quo exempting yeshiva students from service.
A Kadima spokesman said yesterday that "the Tal Law had come up in the coalition talks but no decision has been reached yet, nor has there been any talk of an extension."
Meanwhile, despite still being officially a member of the opposition, UTJ MK Ya'acov Litzman was asked on Monday by both coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki and Yehezkel to remain head of the Knesset Finance Committee.
The committee is set to hold discussions on the state budget bill and prepare it for the second and third readings. Litzman said two weeks ago that as a member of the opposition he would not chair any budget meetings, but Olmert's envoys asked him to remain both in the hope that an agreement with UTJ was imminent and in recognition of Litzman's expertise at budget debates. They are worried that, with a new chairman, discussions will become bogged down.
The government has only a month left to pass the budget into legislation before new elections are called.