Petitioners plead to scrap 'failed' Tal Law

The Tal Law has failed and the Knesset should not have renewed it for another five years, The Movement for Quality Government said Thursday in a petition to the High Court of Justice. The law was enacted in 2002 to encourage haredim of military age to join the workforce, learn a trade or enlist in the army. "The law has not fulfilled its aims, has not led to the advancement of the goals it presumed to advance or to remedying the current distorted situation," wrote the petitioner, represented by attorneys Eliad Shraga and Barak Calev. "The law is manifestly illegal and a black and destructive stain on Israel's statute books." The Tal Law was passed as a compromise solution to the question of whether haredi men should serve in the army. For decades the defense minister was authorized to give deferments to young men studying at yeshivot. Most of them never had to serve. The system of deferments went into effect at the beginning of statehood, when prime minister and defense minister David Ben-Gurion granted 400 draft deferments to help strengthen the yeshiva world, which had been decimated during World War II. But over the years the number of yeshiva students granted deferments increased drastically. According to the petitioners, 28,547 haredi men were given draft deferments in 1996. Today the number is almost 50,000 and is expected to reach 60,000 by 2012, they said. The High Court ruled in 1998 that the defense minister could no longer grant deferments on his own counsel and the practice had to be embedded in law. The Tal Committee drafted the legislation. According to the law, after receiving deferments for the first four years, a yeshiva student could stop studying for a year without automatically being drafted. He could spend the year in voluntary service, after which he would not be drafted and did not have to go back to yeshiva, but could begin working for a living. He could also learn a trade that year or do a truncated military service. He did not have to do any of these, but if he did not, at the end of the year he would either go back to his studies or serve in the army. The law expired after five years. On Wednesday, the Knesset voted to renew it for another five years. According to the Movement for Quality Government, the law had failed to persuade haredim to work or volunteer in vital services, even though the government offered attractive terms for such service, including an income of NIS 550 to NIS 2,100 per student in accordance with the size of his family. Only 1,520 haredi men have chosen the option since the law went into effect, while 50,000 have continued to study in yeshiva, the petitioners wrote. In May, there were 650 haredim taking advantage of the year of decision. Among those who had completed the year, 475 returned to yeshiva, 274 were waiting for the public-service option, 313 received an exemption from military service, 105 entered the army reserves and 353 enlisted in the army, the petitioners wrote. Attorney Yehuda Ressler, one of the petitioners in the court's landmark ruling that ordered the Knesset to pass a law governing the terms of draft deferments, also petitioned the court.