Rivlin, leading rabbi discuss Tal Law replacement

Knesset speaker, Rabbi Aharon Leib Schteinman discuss possible compromise over haredi enlistment in Israeli military.

Rivlin meets rabbis 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Knesset spokesman)
Rivlin meets rabbis 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Knesset spokesman)
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin met on Thursday afternoon with leading ultra- Orthodox figure Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman to discuss a possible compromise for the replacement of the Tal Law regulating haredi enlistment in the army.
The Tal Law, which provided the legal framework for haredi men to indefinitely defer military service, was ruled illegal by the High Court of Justice in February.
There are currently approximately 60,000 full-time yeshiva students who are of army service age but who have gained exemptions under the terms of the Tal Law.
During Thursday’s meeting, which took place at Shteinman’s home in Bnei Brak and was also attended by MKs Moshe Gafni and Uri Maklev, both of UTJ, Rivlin opined that the coming months would be a test for both the broader public and the haredi community “to reach an agreement and an understanding.”
“To solve problems like the Tal Law requires a leadership that can take the reins, in order to prevent people from fanning the controversy for political gain. There are not two peoples within the Jewish nation, we are one people living in one country,” Rivlin said.
“What we have here are two essential requirements: the study of Torah which is a basic principle of our Jewish existence, as well as the need to ensure our security. We need to find a solution which the correct balance to these two needs.”
According to a statement from Rivlin’s office, Shteinman listened attentively to what Rivlin had to say. In reference to Holocaust Memorial Day, Shteinman also noted the “terrible destruction” wrought during the Holocaust on the Torah world.
Shteinman has to a certain extent taken up the mantle of leadership of the non-hassidic Lithuanian stream of haredi Judaism since Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, its widely acknowledged leader, was hospitalized back in February.
Following the High Court’s decision to annul the Tal Law, also in February, Shteinman convened an emergency meeting of leading haredi rabbinical and political figures to discuss the matter at his Bnei Brak home.
Said Shteinman at the time, “Throughout the history of the Jewish people, we survived because of our fulfillment of the Torah and on this we must give up our lives. Without Torah study, there is no existence for the nation of Israel.”
At the end of Thursday’s meeting with Rivlin, Shteinman gave the Knesset speaker a blessing and expressed his hope that Rivlin would continue his good works for the sake of the Jewish people.
In an interview with the hassidic Hamevaser newspaper published just before Passover, Shteinman said, “We should be more concerned about the attempt to injure the status of those studying in yeshiva then the Iranian threat.”
“It pains the heart that specifically at this time, we are hearing that there are people who are being enticed by all sorts of blandishments that the IDF and other organizations are offering designed to get yeshiva students to leave Torah study and exchange eternal life for temporal life and a bit of materialism,” he said. “It is only in the merit of Torah study that our enemies do not succeed in harming us.”
However, Shteinman did support the establishment of the IDF’s Netzah Yehuda haredi battalion in 1999, and sent a representative to sit on the committee that originally drafted the Tal Law, which also sought to encourage increased haredi enlistment through various means and was, at the time, opposed by most of the haredi establishment.
The Tal Law will expire on August 1. If new legislation is not passed by then, the 60,000 full-time yeshiva students who are currently deferring their service under the terms of the Tal Law will be legally obligated to enlist in the IDF.
A statement from Rivlin’s office said that in recent weeks he has also met with the leader of the Belz Hassidim Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the most respected Sephardi arbiter of Jewish law, to discuss the matter.