Israeli High Court gives gov’t two-week reprieve on Orthodox army exemptions

Haredi political leaders have threatened to quit the governing coalition if the High Court imposes conscription.

By Pesach Benson, TPS

Israel’s High Court of Justice on Thursday gave the government a two-week reprieve to present its plan to conscript the country’s Orthodox community into military service.

Acting Supreme President Uzi Vogelman ruled that the government must present its plans to the High Court by May 16.

Activists petitioned the court to end draft exemptions for Haredi, or Orthodox men after a law allowing blanket exemptions for yeshiva students expired in June 2023.

A government directive instructing the Israel Defense Forces not to enforce drafting yeshiva students as a stopgap measure expired in March.

Vogelman also ruled that the government’s affidavit can be presented to the High Court by a private attorney, rather than by Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara.

She does not believe drafting Orthodox men can be legally avoided, putting her at odds with the government.

Military service is compulsory for all Israeli citizens.

However, Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, and the country’s leading rabbis agreed to a status quo that deferred military service for Orthodox men studying in yeshivot, or religious institutions.

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At the time, no more than several hundred men were studying in yeshivot.

However, the Orthodox community has grown significantly since Israel’s founding.

In January 2023, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported that Haredim are Israel’s fastest-growing community and projected it would constitute 16% of the population by the end of the decade.

According to the Israel Democracy Institute, the number of yeshiva students exceeded 138,000 in 2021.

That demographic growth has fueled passionate debates about “sharing the burden” of military service, the status of religious study in a Jewish society, and Haredi integration.

Haredi political leaders have threatened to quit the governing coalition if the High Court imposes conscription.

But Haredi attitudes towards military service have shifted since Hamas’s October 7 attacks.

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