State ordered to defend 'Tal Law'

More than 50,000 yeshiva students don't serve in the army and it's estimated that by 2012, the number will reach 60,000.

The High Court of Justice issued a show-cause order on Thursday, giving the state five months to prepare a defense for its decision, taken in February, to extend application of the "Tal Law" for another five years. The Tal Law grants haredi men of military age the right to take a year off from their yeshiva studies without being automatically drafted. The Knesset approved the law in July 2002, after the High Court ruled that it was no longer proper to give the minister of defense the authority to exempt yeshiva students from military service by his own order, because of the vast number of yeshiva students who were being given exemptions. The court gave the Knesset time to pass legislation to determine the new arrangement. Today, more than 50,000 yeshiva students do not serve in the army. It is estimated that by 2012, the number will reach 60,000. According to the law, which was based on the recommendation of a committee headed by retired Supreme Court justice Zvi Tal, after receiving deferments from age 18 to 22, a yeshiva student may elect to have a year of "choice." He can spend the year in public service, after which he would not be drafted even if he did not return to yeshiva, and could begin earning a living. He can also use the year to learn a trade or perform a truncated military service. In either case, he would not have to return to yeshiva at the end of the year. He can also take the year off and do none of the above, but would then have to return to yeshiva or be drafted. The program got off to a slow start. Very few haredi yeshiva students joined the army or performed public service. The state argued that the problem had to do with the fact that there were no opportunities for yeshiva students to perform voluntary service. Since then, the state has established the National Civilian Service Authority to provide such opportunities. However, the state told the court on Thursday that only 70 yeshiva students were currently involved in volunteer work. Furthermore, according to figures released in March, of the 2,150 yeshiva students who have taken advantage of the year of choice since it was initiated, 350 joined the army, 100 enlisted straight into the reserves, and 475 returned to yeshiva.