Gov't decision aimed at getting haredi men swifter entry into workforce.
By JONAH MANDEL
A clandestine cabinet decision made over two weeks ago to expand the Tal Law to exempt 22-year-old haredi men from military service and thereby promote their swifter entry into the workforce, was slammed this week by the Hiddush Organization for Equality and Freedom.The NGO’s head, Rabbi Uri Regev, called the change a mortal blow to the principle of “a people’s army” and sharing the burden.“The thought that military service for haredim can be canceled altogether without legislation would suggest we are living in a Third World country,” said Regev.The decision would enable every yeshiva student, from the age of 22, to do a year of civil service instead of serving in the IDF, and the military would not have priority to draft them, as is currently the case. Until now, only married haredi men with children have been eligible for that privilege, while unmarried or childless men who chose to leave their Torah studies could opt for civil service over the military only at age 26.The clause comes as part of the government’s attempts to promote employment within the haredi sector, and the change was proposed by the Finance Ministry as part of the economic arrangements bill for 2011-2012. Its passing was not made public at the time, perhaps in an attempt to prevent the expected public and political outcry.As noted in The Jerusalem Post last month, performing either military or civil service would subsequently allow these individuals to be legally employed, in contrast to the situation that prevails when a young man defers his military service to study Torah.At present, only men aged 26 and up are permitted to choose civilian service. While the haredi-friendly “Shahar” IDF track is a two-year program, the civil service requirement can be fulfilled in one year.“This is a miserable and strange decision that mars the ability to expand the rates of haredim serving in the military, primarily through the Shahar program, and deepens the crisis of values while posing a great threat to the IDF model of being a people’s army,” MK Yohanan Plessner (Kadima) said on Monday, noting that IDF OC Manpower Maj- Gen.Avi Zamir opposed such a change, too.The Kadima MK pointed out that while the recent decision was cut out to promote haredi employment, the most significant way of achieving that was learning a trade and acquiring experience in it – exactly what happens in the Shahar military track, which trains haredim to be technicians.Plessner reiterated that many question marks loomed around civil service, the expansion of which is the proposed alternative to military service. A state comptroller’s report highlighted problems in that framework, he noted, such as the fact that most haredim serve in their yeshivot. There has been no indication of solving the shortcomings, Plessner said.“This is also a strange decision on the procedural level, in light of the fact that the government decided to form a committee headed by the Prime Minister’s Office to examine the possibility of reducing the age of exemption from military service, which is the result of this decision,” he said.On Tuesday, Plessner will be convening the subcommittee he heads, which is meant to oversee the implementation of the Tal Law, to delve into the issues raised by the decision.In the meantime, he called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to delay the decision until there could be an in-depth examination of the “unresolved questions,” and will be sending him a letter to that effect.While much of the economic arrangements bill needs to pass three readings on the Knesset floor, this clause is being put forth as an expansion of the defense minister’s authorities, rather than as a change to the Tal Law, which would necessitate a parliamentary vote, according to Hiddush.
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