Haredi MKs: Bogus yeshiva students must do national service

It has been estimated by several figures that approximately 60 percent of enrolled students do not study for required amount of time.

MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Ultra-Orthodox MKs present during a hearing of the Shaked Committee on haredi IDF enlistment on Monday repeatedly said that enrolled full-time yeshiva students who do not fulfill their study commitments and do not study “day and night” should perform some form of national service.
The committee convened for a lengthy session to discuss proposed legislation to achieve mandatory military or national service for haredi men by 2017, as well as plans to better integrate the haredi community into the work force.
It is widely believed that many thousands of haredi students enrolled in full-time study, out of a total of approximately 45,000, do not actually fulfill their commitments, although precise figures are not available.
Although haredi politicians have frequently repeated the mantra that anyone not studying should be drafted, several of the ultra-Orthodox lawmakers at the hearing also said that any yeshiva dean who submits false attendance reports for yeshiva students harms the Torah world.
“As far as I’m concerned, anyone not studying Torah day and night should enlist,” said MK Moshe Gafni of UTJ.
MK Meir Porush, also of UTJ, said “none of the haredi MKs defends someone who gets the [military service] exemption but nevertheless does not study.”
Present at the hearing from United Torah Judaism were MKs Gafni, Porush and Yisrael Eichler, as well as Nissim Ze’ev and Ariel Attias from Shas.
Haredi MKs did not cooperate at all during proceedings undertaken by the Plesner Committee – which was established in the summer of 2012 to deal with the same issue.
“We are coming to hearings in order to change [the bill] and to influence. The text of the bill is not decreed by fate,” said Gafni in Monday’s hearing.
Yesh Atid MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, who was also at the session, said that all parties were in agreement that anyone not fulfilling study obligations should enlist.
“There was 100 percent consensus in the room, across all the parties, that someone who does not learn day and night must go to the army and that rabbis who sign that a boy is learning to this extent when he is not, damage the Torah,” said Lipman.
“I hope the rabbinic leaders of the haredi community will share this message and send all boys who cannot learn day and night to serve in the army. This will remove all the tension between the communities and will enable a joint plan to move forward with total agreement.”
Although accurate numbers on the number of yeshiva students fulfilling their study commitments are not available, it has been estimated by several figures that approximately 60 percent of enrolled students do not study for the required amount of time.
Brig.-Gen. Gadi Agmon, who represented the IDF at the hearing, noted this phenomenon, saying that there are “thousands who are not studying in yeshiva,” and expressed dismay that attendance reports were not honest.
“I want to know how it can be that a yeshiva dean who is a religious and spiritual leader signs a false declaration,” said Agmon.
There are currently approximately 7,000 haredi men who turn 18 every year. Proposals made by the Peri Committee, which drew up the legislation under deliberation, would provide 1,800 full exemptions and funding to exceptional Torah scholars, comprising 25 percent of the annual cohort.
The IDF has expressed willingness to accommodate haredi recruits and their specific needs by creating appropriate army tracks for such conscripts.
It is currently establishing an induction center specifically for haredi recruits at a cost of NIS 16 million.
The Shaked Committee has not yet begun examining specific clauses of the proposed legislation, but will start doing so in a hearing next week.
It is hoped that the legislation will be ready for its second and third readings in Knesset by the beginning of the Knesset’s winter session in October.
The earlier session of the hearing, open to the media, dealt with haredi integration in the work force.
Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett said during the session that the issue was one of supreme importance, greater even than that of haredi integration into the army.
“Entry into the job market will allow haredim to escape from the cycle of poverty and will help the entire economy as well as assisting haredim to integrate into Israeli society.
Bennett said that efforts to increase haredi participation in the work force would focus on three things: creating a dedicated infrastructure of employment guidance centers around the country; increasing the demand among employers for haredi employees by providing financial incentives in places of work; and providing professional training for haredi individuals.