Replacing Tal

Coercion will not expedite this inevitable change; it will only delay it.

Tal Law Protest 311 (photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
Tal Law Protest 311
(photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
As the Knesset summer session begins, there has been a renewed push to pass legislation that will encourage more Israelis – in particular haredim – to perform military service.
In February, the High Court of Justice ruled that the “Tal Law,” which anchored in law sweeping deferrals from military service for haredi men, contradicted the principle of equality by effectively exempting some citizens from military service while obligating others. With the Tal Law expiring in August, the Knesset must pass alternative legislation before summer recess.
Last Saturday night, grassroots movements relaunched demonstrations, this time in the Rose Garden across from the Knesset. Activists call themselves “suckers,” to express their frustration with the fact that more than 60,000 yeshiva students between the ages 18 and 41 receive deferrals from the IDF while other Israelis of the same age are obligated to perform military service.
At least one cabinet member, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, visited so-called Suckers’ Tent set up in Rose Garden and signed a petition calling for universal military or civil service.
Over Independence Day various political leaders emphasized the importance of an “equitable sharing of obligations.” During an award ceremony for 120 outstanding soldiers – including several haredi men – President Shimon Peres made such a call. Speaking at the Bible Quiz, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar said that “today we need a significant change in the way we share our obligations.”
Citizens from all the sectors must cooperate in fulfilling their civilian obligation, first among being military service, or national service in appropriate cases.
Meanwhile, Yisrael Beytenu Chairman and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman wrote on his Facebook wall that he hopes by next year, the soldiers given awards on Independence Day will originate from all sectors – secular, haredi, Druse, Arab and Beduin.
Eyeing their popularity ratings ahead of elections – currently slated for fall 2013 – politicians know that advocating “equitable sharing of obligations” garners wide appeal. A recent poll conducted by Hiddush, an NGO that supports religious pluralism, surveyed 500 Jewish Israeli adults and found that 82 percent favor legislation that would force yeshiva students to perform military service.
Still, our lawmakers must be careful not to get carried away by the populist fervor. Doing away with the Tal Law altogether, abolishing deferrals and forcing young haredi men to join the IDF under threat of fine or imprisonment would be a serious mistake. Direct coercion will only strengthen the most extreme elements in the haredi community who are fundamentally opposed to any form of military or national service.
Instead, the state must find ways to maintain gentle but insistent pressure on haredi young men to share with their non-haredi brethren in the collective endeavor to defend the Jewish state.
Measures should include providing economic incentives for those who do serve; creating additional frameworks within the IDF that can accommodate the haredi population while at the same time being careful not to undermine the uniformity of military service; restricting the drafting of haredi men to those who can truly contribute to the IDF while referring others to National Service; and fostering cooperation with leaders of the haredi community who are willing to quietly support the drafting of yeshiva students who lack the disposition to sit and study for eight to 12 hours a day.
Ways must be found to allow the significant, widespread evolutionary changes taking within this population to proceed unhindered. It is the best way to facilitate integration.
The vast majority of Israelis are understandably disconcerted by the realization that due to brisk haredi population growth, within a decade or two, half of all 18-year-old men will opt out of mandatory military service.
But we should remember something else – that in another decade or two, the haredi population will have changed dramatically, and significantly larger numbers will be sharing in the collective burdens of the Jewish nation. Coercion will not expedite this inevitable change; it will only delay it.