Supreme Court orders Israeli gov’t to draft ultra-Orthodox students

Israeli Supreme Court rules unanimously that government must enforce draft law on yeshiva students, after the court struck down draft law.

By World Israel News Staff

The Israeli Supreme Court has ordered the government of Israel to immediately act to draft ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, in a unanimous ruling handed down Tuesday.

In its decision, the court rejected the government’s position, and instructed the state to cease funding of yeshiva students who, in the absence of a draft law exempting them or offering them annual service deferrals, must by law be drafted into the Israeli military.

“The state does not have the authority to instruct a broad exemption from service and in the absence of a law, funding cannot be made from state coffers for yeshiva students who were not legally exempt from service,” the court said.

The government must instead “act to enforce the Law for Military Service on yeshiva students.”

“It should be understood that even when exercising this authority for formulating a program for the gradual conscription of yeshiva students, the military authorities are obligated to act in accordance with the principles of administrative law.”

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Shas party chairman MK Aryeh Deri blasted the ruling Tuesday afternoon, and accused the Supreme Court of targeting Torah study.

“The Jewish people survived persecutions, pogroms and wars only thanks to maintaining their uniqueness, the Torah and the commandments,” Deri said. “This is our secret weapon against all enemies, as promised by the Creator of the world.”

“There is no power in the world that can cut off the people of Israel from studying the Torah and anyone who has tried this in the past has failed miserably. No high-handed ruling will abolish the community of scholars in the land of Israel, which is the branch on which we all sit.”

The court’s ruling was issued in response to a petition against the government’s continuation of the religious status quo, maintaining annual deferrals for full-time yeshiva students, even after the Supreme Court struck down the draft law which permitted such deferrals.

The IDF has long maintained a mixed policy regarding the draft, imposing a near-universal draft on most of the Jewish population, while exempting Orthodox Jewish and Arab women, offering deferrals to men studying full-time in yeshiva, and largely exempting Arab men, with the exception of the Druze community.

In the 1980s and 1990s, however, the deferrals offered to yeshiva students drew growing criticism, leading to the establishment in 1999 of the Tal Committee to draft an alternative plan which would encourage ultra-Orthodox men to enter the workforce, allowing them the opportunity to leave yeshiva for a trial period without enlisting in the army.

That same year, the IDF formed the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, also known as Nahal Haredi, which catered to ultra-Orthodox soldiers.

In 2002, the Knesset passed the Tal Committee’s recommendations into law.

In 2012, however, the Supreme Court struck down the Tal Law, arguing that it discriminated against non-ultra-Orthodox citizens.

Two years later, the Israeli government passed a replacement law, aimed at encouraging ultra-Orthodox men to enlist in the army, with specific quotas set for ultra-Orthodox enlistment.

In 2015 the new government, which included the two ultra-Orthodox parties – Shas and United Torah Judaism – repealed the 2014 law, replacing it with one which largely restored the status quo ante.

The Supreme Court stepped in again in 2017 to strike down the new law, demanding the government pass new legislation to replace it.

Following Yisrael Beytenu’s departure from the government at the end of 2018, however, and the political instability which led to four consecutive Knesset elections from 2019 through 2022, coupled with the coronavirus pandemic, the Knesset was unable to pass a new draft bill to replace the version struck down in 2017.

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Tuesday’s ruling was made after the government failed to pass a replacement law by the court’s June 2024 deadline, the last of multiple extensions issued by the Supreme Court.