Israel’s fragile coalition government may be in danger after an Israeli High Court decision to strike down the law that exempts strictly Orthodox yeshiva students from military service. The ruling called the exemption “discriminatory and unconstitutional”.
In an eight-to-one decision reached on Tuesday afternoon, the court also informed the government that it had a year to replace the current law.
The issue of Charedim — the strictly Orthodox — serving in Israel’s military is extremely contentious, with many secular Israelis believing that all citizens should do their share to protect the country. However, almost all Charedim are reluctant to serve for fear of the negative influences they feel army life would bring.
Many strictly Orthodox people also believe the Torah learning, in which a large number of Charedi men in Israel engage, is a form of spiritual protection for the country. Secular Israelis are sceptical of such a notion.
The ruling elicited strong responses on both sides of the debate, with the High Court praised by some and accused by others of “hatred” and meddling in Jewish traditions.
“Equality, gentlemen, equality,” tweeted Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union party. “Military, national or civilian service for all, without schticks and tricks. You can keep the yeshiva world without granting full exemptions to everyone.”
Yohanan Plesner, President of the Israel Democracy Institute, who chaired the Knesset committee that revised Charedi conscription policy in 2012, said: “Like every Supreme Court in a democratic state, Israel’s High Court of Justice had no choice but to throw this discriminatory law out and back to the Knesset, so as to develop a more equitable arrangement.”
However, MK Menachem Eliezer Moses, of the United Torah Judaism alliance, told Haaretz: “The High Court of Justice once again proves how cut off it is from Jewish tradition and how deep is its hatred for anything dear to those who study Torah and the guardians of religion. The High court continues time after time to set’s decisions.”
Rabbi Moses, who is the leader of the United Torah Judaism Knesset faction, is reported to have said the party’s MKs would “consult with the party’s rabbinical leadership and act to legislate a new law ‘to protect us from the arrogant rulings of the High Court’.”
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, head of the strictly Orthodox Shas party, said the ruling “again proves the serious disconnect between the Supreme Court and the Jewish people, who have known through all generations that what holds us together against persecution and evil decrees is Torah study.”
In 1999, the Tal Committee was set up to deal with the issue of the exemption granted to Charedi Jews from Israel’s mandatory military service.
The Tal Law, passed in 2002, continued the exemption, but was required to be renewed every five years.
However, the High Court ruled that the law was unconstitutional in 2012 and Israel’s shifting coalitions have meant that this major political issue has yet to be solved to anyone’s satisfaction.
In 2013, a government coalition passed a gradual enlistment law, intended to conscript the Charedim over time.
However, when a new coalition was formed that included strictly Orthodox political parties, new legislation effectively halted the gradual enlistment process.
The High Court’s decision cancelled the most recent legislation, meaning that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to keep his government intact, he will have to come up with a solution acceptable both to the strictly Orthodox parties in his coalition and Israel’s judicial system.