Yishai: Tal Law will be extended for another year

Despite ruling that law unconstitutional, Interior Minister says year needed to draft new legislation on haredi enlistment.

Eli Yishai 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Eli Yishai 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Interior Minister and Shas chairman Eli Yishai wrote on Thursday that the Tal Law, struck down by the High Court of Justice on Tuesday as unconstitutional, would be extended for another year despite the ruling.
Writing in the Shas weekly Yom Leyom, he said that more time would be needed to draft new legislation to address the issue of haredi enlistment in the army.
The Tal Law will expire on August 1, and the High Court ruled that the Knesset cannot renew it.
Yishai added that it was the Finance Ministry that was preventing more ultra-Orthodox men from enlisting, due to budgetary constraints.
“Two battalions are waiting to be drafted, but the IDF isn’t drafting them because of a lack of funds,” he wrote.
“There are hundreds more waiting to enlist in national service programs.”
He also claimed that the haredi community was being made into a “sacrificial offering for the benefit of both politicians dealing with primary elections and those trying to establish new parties.”
“There won’t be a yeshiva student who will need to leave the world of Torah because of the abolishment of this law,” Yishai added in comments made to the haredi weekly Mishpacha.
“[Incumbent] upon us, as representatives of the community, is the responsibility to ensure this.”
MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima), chairman of the Knesset working group for the implementation of the Tal Law, and a longtime advocate of military-draft reform, said the Shas chairman was simply “expressing what Netanyahu has been whispering behind closed doors,” that he has no intention of abiding by the High Court ruling.
Plesner called Yishai’s demands for a year to write legislation “unfounded and unnecessary,” and said that a new law could be drafted within two months.
According to Plesner, army representatives said at a working group hearing on Tuesday that there were not enough 18- to 21-year-olds for more than one battalion like the combat Netzah Yehuda Battalion (“Nahal Haredi”), designed for ultra- Orthodox soldiers, which drafts more than 500 soldiers every year. The army is understood to be reluctant to create another battalion on the same basis.
In a committee meeting in October, Brig.-Gen. Amir Rogovski of the IDF’s Human Resources Directorate told the Knesset Tal Law working group that there had been 700 applicants for the Shahar army track for haredim, but only 500 places due to budgetary constraints. Rogovski said that the Treasury was refusing to provide the funds required to draft the additional 200 haredi applicants.
Recruiting haredi soldiers is expensive under current frameworks, since many of the men are married with children, which entitles soldiers to a supplementary army income of as much as NIS 5,000 a month.
Shahar Ilan, the deputy director of Hiddush, a religious freedom lobbying group, said there are probably enough willing haredim to draft at least one more battalion, but that the IDF does not want another sectarian-based unit, as they are seen as a threat to democracy due to the possibility of them turning into a private army.
“If Netanyahu wants Yair Lapid’s polling numbers to get back up to 20 [Knesset] seats, then ignoring the High Court ruling is a good way of going about it,” Ilan added.
Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, a leading figure in the non-hassidic ultra-Orthodox community, wrote a strongly worded article on Thursday, published on the front page of the Degel Hatorah mouthpiece Yated Neeman, attacking the notion of drafting yeshiva students. (Degel Hatorah is one of the two parties that make up United Torah Judaism.)
Auerbach called the ruling a “decree to uproot religion, which we are commanded to protect with our lives without exception, God forbid, in order to sanctify the name of Heaven.
“The purpose of this awful decree is to harm the heart of Judaism – this cannot be in Israel,” he added.
Auerbach is considered to be the closest disciple of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the current undisputed leader of the “Lithuanian” non-hassidic world. Elyashiv is 101 years old, however, and has been hospitalized for several weeks in serious condition.
Meanwhile, Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin said on Tuesday that the Knesset plenum would continue the discussion begun several weeks ago in accordance with the law’s requirements to begin debating its extension six months before the expiration of its five-year period of validity.