Next haredi-oriented law likely to be compromise

Analysis: A mild form of mandatory national or civilian service for those not drafted into the IDF may be part of any new legislation.

By
February 23, 2012 01:32
Activists protest Tal Law in Tel Aviv

Protest against Tal Law 390. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

 
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The bombshell the High Court dropped on the political and religious status quo on Tuesday night in declaring the Tal Law unconstitutional seems likely to cause huge reverberations throughout Israeli society.

But the specter of civilian rebellion and complete societal breakdown due to irreconcilable ideological beliefs between secular, national-religious and ultra- Orthodox sectors may not be as inevitable as is commonly perceived.

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The most central question is: What will come after the Tal Law? This rather depends on whether or not the minimum demands of the Zionist public and political parties regarding the notion of equality in the share of the burden of military service will be compatible with the minimum demands of the ultra-Orthodox public and political parties regarding the ability of those who wish to study Torah full time to do so or not.

The Torato Omunato “Torah is his profession” framework, an intrinsic part of the Tal Law that provides for haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men to indefinitely defer military service while studying in yeshiva full time with the financial support of the state, appears to be no longer acceptable to the broader public.

Whether it is the legal and (quasi) constitutional objections of the High Court, political objections, or public anger, the Zionist majority does not seem to be in a mood to continue serving in the army while paying for others not to.

On the other hand, the “Torah is his profession” idea is deeply important for the haredi community and there is little indication that it is willing to give it up. The only official response coming from United Torah Judaism is that the High Court decision will be studied but that those studying within the Torato Omunato framework will continue to study Torah in any future arrangement.

Shas leader Eli Yishai has also pointed to the “clear and wellknown contribution of those studying the Torah to the state.”

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Is there room for compromise? Possibly, but it seems unlikely that the slogan of “equality in the burden of military service” will be fully realized anytime soon.

Neither the government nor the public at large want to criminalize the approximately 60,000 kollel students come August 1, when the Tal Law’s death rattle will be heard and the unloved piece of legislation will expire. The IDF doesn’t have enough space in its prisons and is not able to absorb a deluge of thousands of kollel students either.

But the haredi parties are not in a particularly strong position either. Public sentiment is hostile to the very idea of Torato Omunato, and antagonistic towards a society that in the past few months has been identified with discrimination against women, spitting at children and the general imposition of stringent religious practices by the haredi minority on the secular majority.

Elections are also in the offing, so the leverage the haredi parties have over the government is reduced, especially when considering the current populist mood sweeping through the Knesset and the country as a whole. Further, the prime minister does not have a majority in the government coalition to preserve the status quo, given the opposition of Israel Beiteinu, Independence and Habayit Hayehudi to Torato Omunato.

However, a spokesman for Shas has said that the party will work towards an agreement in which legislation will be drafted that will to all intents and purposes preserve the idea of Torato Omunato but also create a mechanism for greater inspection of those who are supposed to be studying in kollel full-time.

Those for who yeshiva study is a mere excuse to get out of military service will be drafted, he said, while others will be allowed to continue with their studies.

A mild form of mandatory national or civilian service for those not drafted into the IDF may also be part of any new legislation. The Independence Party has talked of an eight-12- month national service program for those the IDF does not select for military service, along with relatively relaxed parameters for haredi men who insist that they will only serve in the national or civilian service programs.

Financial inducements, such as increased salaries for those serving in the army for two to three years that would be dedicated towards paying higher education or vocational training fees, may also be part of any new law.

Many proposed ideas include provision for a certain number of elite Torah scholars to remain in full-time study, ranging from one to three thousand, although the principle that military service is for the majority and Torah study for the minority of the haredi community is still anathema to most haredi leaders.

Many politicians currently involved in legislative efforts to create alternatives to the Tal Law appreciate that forcibly drafting thousands of haredim into the army will simply not work. Talk of civil rebellion by haredi leaders may be hyperbolic but taking coercive measures may simply reenforce the community’s perception that the state is trying to secularize them, prevent them from learning Torah and cut off their pe’ot.

This is what conservative elements in the community have been warning of and the political center-ground is therefore wary of playing into their hands.

Additionally, the rate of haredi enlistment into the army has risen rapidly over the past five years, although from an admittedly low base. In 2007, fewer than 300 ultra-Orthodox men were drafted into the army, whereas nearly 1,300 enlisted in 2011, an increase of more than 300 percent.

More than 1,000 haredim signed up to national or civilian service programs in 2011 as well, which, combined with the IDF enlistment figures, represents approximately 27% of the potential haredi draft in 2011 of 8,500 men.

There is a concern that coercive measures in new legislation will roll back these gains.

Ultimately, it seems that neither side will be able to realize its publicly declared, maximalist goals and some form of compromise is likely to prevail.

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