High Court puts off decision on Tal Law

State slammed for not providing conditions to evaluate law offering haredim a short army service.

Nahal haredi soldier 248 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Nahal haredi soldier 248 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The High Court of Justice on Tuesday gave the state another 15 months to prove that the Tal Law, which allows yeshiva students to leave their studies for a year without being drafted and then decide whether to perform national or army service or return to yeshiva, is contributing to a social change within the haredi community. But the court, which sat in an expanded panel of nine justices, was critical of the alleged lack of significant achievements so far. "Up to now, the pace of preparations for the programs that are meant to give teeth to the Tal Law and the rate of allocating the resources necessary to do so are very far from what could have been expected under the circumstances, especially considering the substantial amount of time that has elapsed since the law was enacted in 2002," wrote Justice Esther Hayut. Still, despite the allegedly slow progress, the court concluded that "before taking a final position on the constitutionality of the Tal Law and its extension for another five years, we must allow those programs, which are meant to help implement the law and have only recently come into existence and begun functioning, prove their effectiveness or ineffectiveness according to the results they yield over another limited time period. "At the end of it, we will again look at the statistics on enlistment in the IDF, and in public service for those who do not want to serve in the army." According to the figures presented by the state, the number of yeshiva students performing public service increased from 70 in May 2008 to 705 in June 2009. Meanwhile, in addition to the haredi unit in the Nahal Brigade, two new technological tracks have been opened in the air force that are tailored to haredi needs, and two others are being prepared. In 2008, 194 haredim joined the haredi Nahal unit, while 150 were serving in the two special air force units in December 2008. However, the court pointed out that these figures must be compared to the 4,672 haredim who reached draft age in 2008, nearly all of whom were exempted from military service. The Tal Law was originally approved by the Knesset on August 8, 2002, for a five-year trial. It was drafted by a special committee headed by former Supreme Court justice Zvi Tal after the High Court ruled that the old system, whereby the defense minister granted wholesale exemptions to all haredi men who were studying in yeshiva full-time, was illegal and that the Knesset must set rules via legislation. Under the law, any yeshiva student who asks for it will be granted a military service exemption for four years after reaching the age of 18. If he drops out of the yeshiva during that period, he will be automatically drafted. In the fourth year, the student may leave the yeshiva for one year for any reason without being drafted. At the end of that year he has three choices: He may return to the yeshiva and continue studying; he may perform a truncated compulsory military service, after which he does not have to return to the yeshiva but will have to perform reserve duty; or he can do a year of public service, at the end of which he does not have to return to yeshiva. The aim of the law was not only to encourage yeshiva students to contribute to society, but to provide a route through which haredi men could leave yeshiva and eventually enter the work force. Several individuals and organizations petitioned against the law after it was approved in 2002, declaring that it violated the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom. The court rejected the petitions, saying the state should be given more time to see if the law would increase the number of haredim who join the army and the labor market. At the end of the first five years, on July 18, 2007, the Knesset voted to extend the law by another five years. Once again, five individuals and organizations petitioned against the law. Tuesday's High Court decision means that the state will have at least three-and-half-years of the temporary law's second term to convince the court that the legislation is making a substantial impact on the haredi community.