JERUSALEM - The Supreme Court is set to hear an appeal Sunday against the Tal Law, which provides ultra-Orthodox men with a special exemption from national military service.
During the debate, it was revealed that only 31 Orthodox men have enlisted into the army since the bill became law in February 2002. The State claims that the law “is not intended to forcibly enlist people, but rather to encourage ultra-Orthodox to join the army.”
But it also admitted the law was experiencing “painful labor pains.”
Three years ago, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak initiated the Tal commission, in an effort to get yeshiva students to voluntarily enlist in the army.
Groups opposing the law include the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, A Different Israel, the Shinui and Meretz-Yahad parties and others, who say that the measures do not go far enough, and who wish to end the blanket exemption for ultra-religious men.
However, the State said 41,450 people have officially declared that the “Torah is their occupation,” a statement which, according to the Tal Law, excuses them from military service – the largest number of exemptions since Israel was founded.
“If we forcibly enlisted people, if we sent military police into ultra-Orthodox yeshivas, it would create a great division in Israeli society,” said Osnat Mandel, a lawyer on the State’s defense team.
'Army should show responsibility'
According to the State, it is very hard to evaluate the law when the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) have no alternatives to military service, such as non-military national service programs.
IDF officials say they won’t be able to evaluate the law until 2009 at the earliest.
Justice Michael Cheshin has asked the army to “show responsibility” when exempting ultra-religious men from military service.
“I want to see the army being responsible when exempting people from service,” he said. “If there’s some kind of secret, I’m prepared to see the evidence behind closed doors.”
According to State statistics, since February 2002, 1,115 yeshiva students have opted to use the “year to decide” option, a loophole in the Tal Law allowing yeshiva students to work or study outside the yeshiva framework for a year, and then to decide whether to enlist in the army, or to return to yeshiva studies.