It took years of controversy, two committees, two landmark Supreme Court rulings and long months of other acrimonious debates but finally, on Sunday, the Israeli government passed the law regulating the national service of Charedi yeshivah students.
The issue brought down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s previous government but this time a majority of 14 ministers voted in favour of the law, with four abstentions.
The new law, drafted by a committee chaired by Science Minister Yaakov Peri, still faces a lengthy legislation process in the Knesset and an uncertain four-year implementation period.
According to the law, yeshivah students will have to decide by the age of 21 whether to join the army or carry out a civilian form of national service. Each year, 1,800 iluyim [gifted students] will be exempted from service and allowed to continue their Torah studies. Those refusing to join national service will be liable for criminal prosecution.
Mr Netanyahu said at the cabinet meeting: “We have two aims, to integrate young Charedi men into the IDF and civilian service and to integrate them into the workforce.”
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party had made the new national service law a central part of its coalition demands, called the vote “historical” and said: “After 65 years we are fixing this warp in the national burden. It’s for the good of Charedi society and Israeli society.”
Yisrael Beiteinu ministers abstained in protest that the new law does not include Israeli Arabs, although Mr Netanyahu promised that this issue would be dealt with in the future.
It is still clear how the new law will be implemented as the Charedi rabbis have said that they will not allow their students to join the army.