Israel's High Court of Justice met Sunday in a session to discuss the controversial Tal Law - which exempts young haredi men from military service on religious grounds. In a full forum, headed by Chief Justice Dorit Beinish, the nine judges considered a petition to overturn the law, submitted to the court by a coalition of reservists, wounded veterans, parents of soldiers in compulsory service and others.
The Tal law, meant to provide flexibility for Torah study, allows 18-year-old yeshiva students to postpone their military service every year until the age of 22, at which point they decide whether to work or study. Those who choose to work need to choose between army service of four months or civil service of one year.
During the session, Justice Ayala Procaccia said that, in dealing with this and other laws related to the haredi community, the state is inconsistent in its approach to Haredi education.
"The whole basis of the Tal Law is the promotion of education, but recently a law was passed in opposition to a previous court ruling, which allows the state to finance yeshivot without requiring them to conform to basic state curriculum," she said.
"How does the state's intent of educating the haredi public to serve in the IDF fit in, if the state simultaneously allows students in this community to be exempt also from learning basic subjects?" she asked.
An additional problem with the Law, Beinish said, was that it doesn't seem to encourage military service among the haredi community. "It seems that most of the state's efforts involving young men from yeshivot involve civil service, rather than military service," she said.
The state's representative, Avi Licht, responded that "the haredi community is undergoing a process, bringing it closer to the secular Israeli community," but that changes must occur gradually because "imposed enlistment for Haredim will cause a social crisis."
By the year 2012, it is estimated that there will be some 2,000 haredim in Israel affected by the Tal Law. As such, Licht said, efforts are being made to increase haredi involvement in the IDF.
"The changes in haredi community indicate that they are willing to take a step towards the Tal Law and have not been prohibited to do so by their rabbis," he said.
"It can't be said that the government is dragging its feet, although the Tal Law cannot change demographics in a day," he added, emphasizing that the point of the law was not to impose enlistment on the haredi community.
Yehuda Rassler, one of the petition's signatories, expressed his motivation in appealing to the High Court on the issue. "There are two types of citizens; there's discrimination between blood and blood and it needs to stop. This is a cancer within the nation; this is a prejudiced law," he said.
Lawyer Eliad Shraga, a representative for the Movement for Quality Government (MQG) concurred, saying "those who serve are being harmed, both in terms of the value of their lives and in terms of physical and intellectual property. The policy of the Tal Law is not bringing about a meaningful improvement."
Amnon Meranda contributed to this report