haredi soldiers graph 248.88.
(photo credit: Graph: Jpost composite, Photo: C/O Nahalharedi.org)
There was a sharp rise in the number of haredim serving in the IDF or doing some form of national service in 2009 compared to the previous year, according to data gathered and released this week by Hiddush, an initiative pushing for religious pluralism.
Approximately 2,000 yeshiva students served in the IDF or in National Service in 2009 compared to just 300 to 400 in 2008, according to data from various sources.
The vast majority of ultra-Orthodox men who choose to enlist in the IDF or do national service are over the age of 25. Most are married and have children.
Hiddush said that the sharp rise was a result of the implementation of the Tal law. The Barak administration established the Tal Committee in 1999 to resolve problems resulting from draft exemptions for yeshiva students.
Perhaps the most glaring problem was the fact that since military service for men is mandatory, a haredi man was unable to join the workforce until discharging his military obligation.
Since haredi leaders opposed allowing young men to join the IDF for religious and ideological reasons, tens of thousands of men remained in Torah institutions for years without receiving occupational training.
They and their large families became a drain on the nation's welfare budget.
The Tal law took effect in August 2002 to solve this problem.
The law allows yeshiva students over age 22 to take one year off from their studies. During this period, they can acquire a profession or work without being drafted. At the end of the year, the students must choose between returning to full-time studies or completing abbreviated national service.
Between 2002 and 2005, only 1,400 yeshiva students - three percent - took a year off from their studies, and only 74 opted to fulfill national service.
Two ministries went to great lengths to torpedo the initiative - the Finance Ministry, which blocked the creation of civilian national service for yeshiva students interested in remaining in the workforce, and the Defense Ministry, which demanded that 23-year-olds in the program complete a more lengthy service.
But in recent years the state finally began implementing the law.
The National Service Administration reported that in 2009 1,070 haredi men previously enrolled full-time in yeshivot and kolelim, opted to do national service. The men chose between a one year eight-hour-a-day track or a two-year four-hour-a-day track.
These men normally serve inside haredi neighborhoods or haredi charity organizations as paramedics, teachers, or social services workers.
In addition, there were several frameworks in which haredi men continued to be integrated into the IDF.
Deputy head of IDF Manpower Brig. Gen. Amir Rogovsky, told a Knesset team responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Tal Law that about 700 haredi men joined the IDF's various "Shahar" programs. Shahar stands for haredi service (sheirut haredim) and targets married haredi men.
Shahar programs focus on training haredi men for non-combat roles such as computer programmers, technicians and mechanics.
According to data provided by Head of IDF Manpower Avi Zamir to a sub-committee of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, about 300 soldiers are inducted into the Nahal Haredi, a battalion designated for haredi soldiers.
There are differences of opinion regarding how many of these soldiers are actually haredi. Many come from quasi-haredi backgrounds while others are more zealous Orthodox Zionists.
Assuming that at least half are haredi that would mean another 150 haredi men joined the IDF.
Both the Nachal Haredi and Shahar provide participants with occupational training.
In addition, according to a state response to a High Court petition that dealt with delays in the Tal Law's implementation, it was estimated that there are about 250 to 350 haredi men who enlist in the army after getting married and having a few children. Known as Stage Two (shlav bet) these men go through four months of basic training and are obligated to do reserve service.
According to Central Bureau of Statistics data for 2009, a total of 5,500 21-year-old haredim ask for a deferral of their mandatory military service.
However, the total number of haredi men who request deferrals for the sake of devoting themselves to Torah education is about 55,000, according to Hiddush. Therefore, haredi men from various age groups who choose to do national or military service make up just 3.5% of the total.
IDF projections estimate that due to the much higher birthrate among haredi families in comparison to the national average of 2.7 children per mother, by 2019 one quarter of those eligible for draft will request deferrals for religious reasons compared to 13% presently.
Shahar Ilan, head of Hiddush's research department, said that the sharp rise marked an important change in the haredi approach to national and military service.
"A situation in which 1,000 haredim are serving in the IDF would have been inconceivable a decade ago," said Shahar. "It is very possible that this data marks the breaking of the haredi taboo surrounding military or national service."
Nevertheless, Ilan pointed out that only a fraction (3.5%) of the total number of haredim who receive deferrals are doing some form of service to the state. He also questioned the fairness of permitting haredi young men to do their national service in haredi charity organizations, arguing that since these young men received a small salary from the state this was an indirect subsidy for these charities.