Coalition deal plans changes to haredi enlistment

Agreement labelled by draft reform groups as “very positive,”; some reservations about time frame of reforms expressed.

Haredi man, IDF ceremony Tal Law Keshev IDF390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredi man, IDF ceremony Tal Law Keshev IDF390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The details of the coalition agreements’ outline for increasing haredi enlistment that were published on Friday contained few surprises.
Draft reform groups, however, labeled the outline as “very positive,” although reservations about the time frame for the implementation of reforms were also expressed.
For the new legislation on haredi enlistment, a ministerial committee will be set up to devise the bill, which must be brought to the Knesset within 45 days of the swearing-in of the government.
The plan, to be implemented by 2017, will set a limit of 1,800 yeshiva students who will be given a complete exemption each year from national service at the age of 21 and who will receive a higher stipend than at present.
They will be obligated to study until 26 and will be subject to personal economic sanctions if they evade their obligations.
Anyone wishing to defer their national service for religious studies may do so until age 21, when they will have to perform either military or civilian service, with the Defense Ministry and IDF given first choice on who will be drafted into the army. The remainder will go to civilian service, will which – for the majority of recruits – consist of “substantial service” in the Police, Ambulance, or Fire and Rescue services as well as the IDF Home Front Command and the voluntary emergency response service ZAKA. Those serving in the Civilian Service will be paid less than those in the IDF.
Anyone refusing to serve without an exemption will be subject to personal economic sanctions. Yeshivot with high percentages of students who refuse to serve will also have financial penalties levied against them.
The plan also seeks to draft at least 1,600 haredim into combat units with at least two new battalions of what is known as Nahal Haredi to be established by 2014, with more to come after that, and the creation of a haredi basic training base.
Between now and 2017, anyone over the age of 22 will be given the option to serve or not. Anyone choosing not to serve will be given an exemption, cleared to join the workforce and be provided with professional training in sectors of the economy requiring additional manpower.
For haredi men between the ages of 18 and 21, the state will set increasing targets for enlistment in both IDF and civilian service, starting at 3,300 in 2013 and rising to 5,600 by 2016.
Approximately 7,000 haredi males turn 18 each year.
The plan outlined in the coalition agreements also calls for increasing Arab enlistment in civilian service, on a volunteer basis, to 6,000 a year.
The coalition agreement between Likud Beytenu and Bayit Yehudi spells out several other areas for reforming religious matters in the state.
Authority over the Chief Rabbinate will be transferred from the Prime Minister’s Office to the Religious Services Ministry, as will the Conversion Authority and administration of the holy sites.
Although Bayit Yehudi had demanded that the budget for yeshivot and the Rabbinical Courts System also be transferred to the ministry, it appears that those demands were denied.
Among the principles of the new coalition will be to have the education system “instill a greater identity with Zionism,” while religious services will be “more approachable and friendly to all citizens.”
The terms of the current chief rabbis will be extended until elections for new ones, scheduled for June, are completed, but not for a period longer than four months. A law will also be brought to allow chief rabbis to stand for election for a second 10-year term.
One of the most important clauses of the coalition agreement is that granting of all state benefits will be dependent on either being employed or proving that one is actively looking for employment.
This will have a serious effect on the ability of full-time yeshiva students to continue studying. This condition will also apply to subsidized daycare for children, especially important in the haredi community, but will only take effect in five years.
The agreement also calls for core curriculum subjects to be taught to all schoolchildren, including haredim.
Haredi schools will have two years to implement this curriculum.
With regards to issues of religion and state, the coalition agreement with Bayit Yehudi states that “legislative changes in matters of religion will be [made] with the agreement of all coalition parties.”
This essentially gives the national-religious Bayit Yehudi party, along with all the others, the ability to stymie reforms on religious matters such as the hot-button issues of civil marriage, and conversion.
However, the agreement also lacks for the first time a clause committing the government to the preservation of the “status quo” on religious matters, the series of promises to the haredi community pertaining to the preservation of religious standards made by David Ben- Gurion in 1947, possibly opening the way for reforms in this area.
Hiddush, a religious-freedom lobbying group, described the agreement as containing “very positive aspects,” especially regarding the conditioning of benefits on employment and was generally favorable to the plan for increasing haredi enlistment.
Because the time frame for the implementation of many of the reforms is at least four years, the group said that Yesh Atid in particular has a heavy responsibility to implement the changes within the term of the current Knesset.
“This opportunity for an historic revolution in the realm of religion and state cannot be missed,” Hiddush said in a statement to the press.