To Protect and Serve
15,000% Growth in army exemptions for yeshiva students since 1948
Number of current yeshiva students receiving deferments estimated at 58,000. Hiddush President Adv. Rabbi Uri Regev: “Any extension of the Tal Law does a huge disservice to the proud concept of the Peoples’ Army. The public will not tolerate continued discrimination in favor of the ultra-Orthodox; any extension will see great consequences in the next election.”
Birkat Mordechai Yeshiva in Beitar Illit. 24.082009. Photo: Nati Shohat, Flash 90
See Hiddush's fact sheet on army evasion here
In 2011, approximately 13% of the draft class were ultra-Orthodox men who are granted deferments in order to study in yeshiva. These “deferments” are a formalistic legal term that are, in effect, exemptions. It is estimated that 58,000 yeshiva students of army service age are currently being exempted. This data was published by Shahar Ilan, Vice President for Research and Information of Hiddush – Freedom of Religion & Equality, presented to the special Knesset special meeting on "The Tal Law* – A Year of Decision" which took place on December 7, 2012. The meeting was organized by MK Avi Dichter and the Forum for Equality in Sharing the Civic Burden.
Since the establishment of the state, the number of yeshiva students receiving military exemption has increased by nearly 15,000%. This is in contrast to the number of residents in Israel which has increased by only about 1,200%.
The rapid growth of ultra-Orthodox participation in the military and civil service seen in 2007-08 has plateaued. The service figures are particularly low given that in 2011 the number of ultra-Orthodox 18 year olds who evaded the draft was 8,500. In 2011 fewer than 2,500 ultra-Orthodox participated in the military (1,200) or civil service (1,300). Compared to 2,020 in 2010, this is a moderate increase of only 21%, and compared to the year before which showed also a modest growth of 17%. In 2008 and 2009, increases were more than one hundred percent.
Hiddush President, Adv. Rabbi Uri Regev, said in response that “There is no other topic that enjoys such broad public consensus as the need to stop allowing the mass of yeshiva students from fulfilling their civic duties.” Regev reminded Knesset members that: “Any extension of the Tal Law does a huge disservice to the proud concept of the Peoples’ Army. The public will not tolerate continued discrimination in favor of the ultra-Orthodox; any extension will see great consequences in the next election."
Israel’s core democratic principles and commitment to equality are being challenged. The mass exemption of yeshiva students is the most cynical political disregard of public will and national interests.
Regev added: “We must take advantage of the coming months to make necessary changes. The principle should be clear: service must be universal. The Tal Law has failed. We need to go to back to basics; it’s the army’s prerogative to decide who is needed in the military. Everybody else should do civil service. A limited number of outstanding yeshiva students could be given exemption to continue their studies.”
In the packed Jerusalem hall at the Knesset, MKs from political left and right factions, army generals, present and past, leaders of student unions and 12th graders about to be drafted, civil society activists and others, joined in a high energy meeting to discuss the failure of the Tal Law, with most participants advocating that it not be extended and instead a drastically different framework be instituted regarding the ultra-Orthodox participation in military and civil service. It became even more clear that Netanyahu’s coalition will have a difficult time if it attempts to extend the law when MK Matalon of Yisrael Beiteinu stated that his party, which is a mainstay of the coalition, is “unequivocally against extending the Tal Law under any conditions or in any variation.”
Rabbi Regev, who spoke at the gathering, stressed that “while the topic at hand is military service of the ultra-Orthodox, it is really the future of the State of Israel which is at stake. Israel’s core democratic principles and commitment to equality are being challenged. The mass exemption of yeshiva students is the most cynical political disregard of public will and national interests. The recent social uprising is an indication that the public will not continue to put up with this manipulation and it is time that Israel’s leadership listens.”
*The Tal Law, named after Justice Tal who chaired the committee that recommended it, was passed in 1999 and was meant to provide a legislated framework to the long standing administrative practice of exempting yeshiva students from military service. It was intended to encourage greater participation in both military and civil service, as well as the workforce. In six months, the law will expire and it is widely held that it failed its purpose and provided for only negligible growth in each of these areas.