Making the Tal Law work

The 2009 Tal figures show a step in the right direction – achieved via a greater stress on appropriate tracks to draw more haredim into the IDF and into national service.

soldiers haredi 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
soldiers haredi 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A decade ago this month the Tal Committee, tasked with getting yeshiva students into IDF ranks or national service and, eventually, into the workforce, presented its report to the Knesset.
The centerpiece recommendation, later ratified by the Knesset as part of the Tal Law, was to give yeshiva students aged 22 the option to take a one-year leave of absence, without facing immediate conscription, during which they could learn a trade or work. After that year was over, they could either return to the yeshiva, or perform a minimal military stint (four months with reserve duty) or national service (one full year) before being free to embark on a career.
Before the Tal Law, yeshiva students who stopped studying full-time were immediately conscripted.
But unpreparedness on the part of the IDF and the national service authorities, coupled with yeshiva heads’ opposition, led state representatives to admit to the Supreme Court in 2005 that the law,  passed in 2002, had failed. Just 3 percent (1,432) of the haredi males who had deferred military service had chosen to even consider the options offered by the law, and only 74 had actually enlisted.
In May 2006, the Supreme Court ruled that the Tal Law’s inherent discrimination against secular Israelis, who are obligated by law to do three years of IDF service, could not be justified, considering the low haredi turnout. But the court gave the state a year and a half to improve its implementation.
In July 2007, the Knesset voted to extend the Tal Law to 2012, while in parallel creating a national service directorship that placed haredi young men in non-profit organizations – primarily in ones that served the haredi community. The IDF also opened haredi-friendly “Shahar” service tracks.
This led to modest improvements. In 2009, a total of 2,000 haredi young men, previously enrolled in yeshivot, opted to either serve in the IDF or do national service. The rise from just 400 the previous year was substantial; still, these men represented just 3.5% of the total number with military deferrals.
NEW DATA presented last week to a Knesset oversight team headed by MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) prove that much more needs to be done to encourage yeshiva students to become economically productive members of society.
In April 2000, when former judge Zvi Tal presented his committee’s recommendations to the Knesset, there were 31,000 yeshiva students ages 18 to 41 who had received deferrals from the IDF. Today there are an unprecedented 60,000.
For the first time in Israel’s history, there are more than 100,000 men who devote their days to the study of the Talmud, Halacha, Jewish philosophy and various homiletic rabbinic literature. About 70,000 married men receive annual state-funded stipends of NIS 10,000, and 33,000 unmarried young men receive about NIS 5,700 a year. The total annual yeshiva budget is about NIS 1 billion.
The present situation is not only discriminatory, it threatens to unravel the delicate fabric of Israeli society. The haredi population is soaring. Currently, 48% of elementary school students are either haredi or Arab and, as highlighted in these columns before, that is set to rise to 78% by 2040.
Unlike religious Zionists, the haredi population chooses to interpret Jewish tradition and texts as incompatible with, if not downright hostile to Zionism. Half (5,500) of the annual potential male IDF draftees who legally skirt military service are haredim, resulting in a breakdown of the “army of the people” ethos and a dearth of able-bodied soldiers.
As for the economic burden, in 2008, 65% percent of the male haredipopulation aged 35 to 54 did not work and had no intention of lookingfor work, a rise of 200% over the past three decades. To support thesemen and their dependent families, average per-capita welfare allowanceshave increased five-fold in real terms since 1970, while Israeli livingstandards, as reflected in per-capita GDP, have only doubled.
The situation is untenable. The same segment of male Israeli societythat works also dedicates at least three years to IDF service, whilebeing forced to pay higher taxes for welfare transfers to anothersegment that does neither.
The 2009 Tal figures show a step in the right direction – achieved viaa greater stress on appropriate tracks to draw more haredim into theIDF and into national service, promoted via interaction with the haredicommunity itself. But more is urgently required.