Remember Tal?

Over a month has passed since the law expired and Israeli society seems to be suffering a case of collective amnesia.

Haredi man, IDF ceremony Tal Law Keshev IDF390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredi man, IDF ceremony Tal Law Keshev IDF390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Our collective memory is short. Just over a month ago the nation was in turmoil over the need to stop the wholesale exemptions from military or national service granted to able-bodied ultra-Orthodox men. Infighting resulted in the breakup of the Plessner Committee, tasked with finding a substitute for the Tal Law, which the Supreme Court ruled in February of this year to be unlawful because it discriminated against the majority of Israeli men who do serve in the IDF.
Just months after joining the government, Kadima abandoned the coalition and returned to the opposition, purportedly in protest against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s refusal to pass a law that would force all ultra-Orthodox men of draft age to enlist. In the run-up to the August 1 deadline, when the Tal Law officially expired, news commentators proffered doomsday forecasts predicting that a civil war would break out if attempts were made to forcibly draft haredi men.
But over a month has passed since the law expired and Israeli society seems to be suffering a case of collective amnesia. The dire need to begin to enlist at least some of more than 60,000 haredi men who are presently postponing their military or national service indefinitely has drifted out of the public consciousness.
Tens of thousands of haredi men – who should be performing their national duty before moving on to the labor market or receiving some form of job training so that they can become productive citizens of the Jewish state – continue to seek shelter from the real world by devoting years usually spent gaining professional training to the endless study of the Torah. These men and their families, whose numbers are growing faster than any other group within Israeli society, will inevitably become an intolerable burden on our welfare state.
The government’s do-nothing policy has a number of negative ramifications.
First, it sends out a distressing message. Israeli citizens are liable to lose confidence in the democratic process. What is the sense of bothering to vote if politicians sidestep the really hard choices they are elected to make? On a more practical level, with the expiration of the Tal Law the National Service Administration, the body responsible for coordinating national service, is no longer permitted to enlist haredi men. The head of the administration, Sar-Shalom Jerby, told The Jerusalem Post Monday that he receives calls every day from dozens of haredi men interested in volunteering for national service. But he is forced to turn them away because there is no legal framework in place empowering him to register them.
A special arrangement reached between the Attorney- General’s office and Defense Minister Ehud Barak has enabled the 2,000 haredi men enrolled in national service before August 1 to finish. But no new candidates can be accepted. As a result, dozens of public and private organizations are in desperate need of volunteers. ZAKA, Magen David Adom, the Senior Citizens’ Ministry, Yad Sarah, the police, the Prisons Service and fire fighters all could benefit from haredi volunteers.
Another beneficial aspect of national service for haredim – that it gets them off the dole and into the job market – has also been lost. Eighty-five percent of haredi men either get a job or get some form of job training after finishing national service, according Jerby. Therefore, it is imperative that the government pass legislation that replaces the Tal Law. Until that happens, an emergency directive must be issued to ensure that the hundreds of haredi men interested in performing national service can do so.
When the Supreme Court struck down the Tal Law, its intention was to force the government to draft a better law that would more effectively encourage haredi men to become productive members of society. Unfortunately, since the law expired last month the situation has gotten worse.
The government must act to advance the integration of haredi men into the workforce, and it must act now.