Health and Interior minister Moshe Arbel said on Monday that not everyone within the ultra-Orthodox community is automatically entitled to a religious exemption from military service.
Arbel stated that members of the ultra-Orthodox community who do not study Torah are not entitled to an exemption, and referred to religious individuals who try to take advantage of the exemption as "hitchhikers”.
“As someone who served in the army and in the reserves until I entered the Knesset, and whose brothers all served in the army, one of them as an officer, I want to say clearly that being ultra-Orthodox is not a reason to be exempt from military service," he said.
While military service is mandatory in Israel, many ultra-Orthodox men prefer not to serve and seek exemptions on religious grounds. Studying Torah in a yeshiva allows for the postponement of military service for at least months, and traditionally yeshiva students have been allowed to continue postponing military service indefinitely while they continue their studies.
“For those who study Torah, it is their art. I expect that in a Jewish state this will not be a criminal offense. These students should be respected," Arbel said.
"At the same time, a person who is a hitchhiker and takes advantage of this exemption, not to study but only in the name of the black cap on his head, is trying to evade military service. We should all work together to recruit him for military service."
Regarding the controversy around the new conscription law, he said that he hasn't "seen the wording of the law yet.”
“I do want to say, a person who doesn't study Torah and is a hitchhiker, we won't protect him," the Shas MK continued. "He has to do military service like any other citizen."
The new law would lower the exemption age for ultra-Orthodox men from 26 to 22 while promoting national service as an alternative option.
Last month, the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party proposed a bill which would establish Torah study as a basic law, in an attempt to prevent the High Court from striking down future legislation granting military service exemptions to religious men.