Some 100 young ultra-Orthodox men – most of them married with children – joined Israel's
National-Civil Service on Sunday after a five-month break.
National-Civil Service Administration officials estimate that 150 volunteers will have joined the service by the end of January as an alternative to military service.
Hundreds of volunteers have been discharged from the service since August, when the Tal Law expired.
Although the government permitted the Administration to resume recruitment even without legislation in order to preserve the system, only 20% of the available positions were filled Sunday.
According to the Administration, the number of yeshiva students interested in joining civil service is much higher, but due to the situation created following the cancelation of the Tal Law – many are prevented from joining the system.
Sources in the Administration say many volunteers want to join, but are deterred by the uncertainty following the recent government decision.
"Radical haredi elements who object to the service are warning potential volunteers that if the High Court rules against the current arrangement, they will be forced to join the army as they have already left their yeshivot," one of the sources explains.
'I wasn't forced to join.' Eliezer (Photo: Kobi Nahshoni)
Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, who is in charge of the National-Civil Service, and Administration Director-General Sar Shalom Jerbi attempted to ease the new recruits' fears on Sunday, promising them that their status would not change even if the High Court canceled the arrangement.
An Administration source estimated that the court would allow those who have already begun their service to complete it, even if it rules against further recruitment.
Jerbi expressed his satisfaction with the resumed recruitment and estimated that the next rounds would be significantly bigger.
"Hundreds are waiting to join. I have no doubt that eventually, each person discharged will be replaced by a new one, just like the government's approval," he said.
Volunteers assured they won't be drafted (Photo: Kobi Nahshoni)
The IDF Personnel Directorate said it would not force the civil service volunteers to join the army in any event.
Yehiel Amoyal, director of the association operating the preserving civil service among the haredi public, estimated that the number of recruits would soar in the coming months after many young men interested in volunteering would feel more secure after seeing that the January recruitment ended well.
Eliezer, 22, a yeshiva student from northern Israel who is married and has two children, told Ynet he was joining the civil service in order to contribute to the people of Israel and needy populations, and was not forced to do so.
He said he had been waiting to join the service for a long time, and that once he had reached the suitable age – he had no doubt he would join.
"The rabbis, family members and community support the move, and there are many more haredim like me."
The recruits are young men over the age of 26 who have no children, or men aged 22 with one child or more, who will choose between a service of 40 weekly hours for a year or 20 weekly hours (part time) for two years.
During the recruitment day the new volunteers were guided on procedures, volunteering courses, rights and duties, etc.
Minister Hershkowitz rejected the public criticism against the government's decision to approve the Defense and Science and Technology ministries' proposal to operate a "preserving national service," which would stop haredim from losing their faith in the system and prevent a lack of volunteers.
"It is unthinkable that haredim begging to volunteer will not be allowed to do so," he said.
According to the legal opinion submitted to the government before it made its decision, the defense minister is authorized to exempt volunteers from military service despite the termination of the Tal Law – including during an election campaign, as it is "an important public interest."