More than 50,000 individuals – almost four full divisions' worth - are currently fully exempt from military service, based on a clause of the Tal Law allowing religious men to defer the army in exchange for Torah study, the IDF's Human Resources Directorate revealed.
These astronomical figures are growing by the year. Fifteen years ago, exempted soldiers constituted only 5 percent of draft-age men. Today, because the haredi population has grown at a rate faster than the general population, the number has more than doubled.
While the military does not intend to establish four new divisions, there's no doubt it would greatly benefit from the lost manpower: If a quarter of these yeshiva students were drafted to infantry units, it would be possible to stop drafting all infantry reservists for operational purposes.
Reservists would need to be called up only for training exercises. The added manpower would also free up time for combat soldiers in compulsory to undertake more exercises, or even shorten the relative enlistment period for each soldier.
The potential benefits extend to the financial sphere as well. There are ten to twelve battalions in a division. Were the army to establish even one battalion of yeshiva students in compulsory service, it would be possible to discharge almost twenty reserves battalions.
Given that a reserves battalion has an average of 500 soldiers and that a day of reserves duty costs, on average, 400 NIS (about $95), eliminating the need for 20 reserves battalions – each of which serve three weeks a year – would save the IDF some 100 million NIS (about $24 million) annually.
Although many yeshiva students do later enlist, the terms of this enlistment have also become problematic. Religious men who enlist under the 'yeshiva arrangement' – a legislated combination of study and service – serve 16 months in combat, as opposed to the 36-month 'regular' stint.
In the past, alumni of high school yeshivas tended to study and then opt for full military service. But today, more are choosing the route of the 'yeshiva arrangement', reducing the total military service of this population by more than half.
Over the past five years, the numbers of recruits participating in the 'yeshiva arrangment' have grown by 20 percent. The implications for the IDF in terms of manpower are equal to the elimination of an infantry battalion.