'Haredim are ignoring Tal Law’s public service option'

Officials tell Knesset panel that fewer than 1,000 haredim have invoked law during past 21 months to volunteer for public service.

young haredis studying 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
young haredis studying 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Fewer than 1,000 haredim have invoked the Tal Law during the past 21 months to volunteer for public service, a step which would enable them to leave their yeshivot the following year and begin working without being drafted into the army, the director-general of the Administration for National-Civic Service told the Knesset State Control Committee on Tuesday.
According to Sar-Shalom Jerby, 500 haredim had volunteered for public service by January 2009. By September 2010, the figure had increased to 1,370.
The Knesset State Control Committee convened to discuss the latest report on the problems that the state comptroller discovered in the two branches of the National-Civic Service Administration, the national service, which applies primarily to women who for reasons of conscience do not serve in the army, and the civic service, which applies mainly to volunteers from the Arab and haredi sectors.
The framework for a civic service for haredim was established in the context of the Tal Law, which was aimed at encouraging haredim to leave the yeshiva and enter the work force without fear of being conscripted into the army for three years, by either performing a truncated military service or performing public service for one year.
The law has been attacked as being discriminatory, since all men in Israel over the age of 18 are obliged by law to serve in the army for three years. Many critics have also charged that only small numbers of haredim have chosen the military or civilian options and that therefore the law has failed.
The figures presented to the committee regarding the civilian option may strengthen those arguments.
According to Jerby, however, the fact that the number of haredi volunteers has grown by 870 is substantial, given that the haredi leadership is opposed to the law because it wants young haredim to remain in yeshiva.
He added that the administration does not want to vigorously campaign among haredim to join the service so as not to further antagonize the leadership.
During the discussion, Leah Uziel, of the State Comptroller’s Office, informed the committee that a large number of haredi volunteers were working in education, even though the law specifically excluded that field from the types of public service activities they could fulfill.
She also found that a portion of those signed up for the civic service in the welfare field, invited wards to their homes for Shabbat and then recorded that they had worked for 24 or 36 straight hours. The quota for a week’s work is 40 hours.
Others who perform their service in dormitory schools, register 24 hours of work for every day they spend with their wards during holidays.
Kadima MK Yohanan Plessner demanded to know what percentage of the haredi volunteers had been caught doing this but Uziel said she did not know.