Sixty-one new settlement recently requested to join the 50,000 haredim who have been exempted from military service as part of the "torato omanuto" (Torah is his profession) arrangement which exempts men from army service as long as they study Torah on a full-time basis.
According to security sources, the minister usually approves the addition of new yeshivas to the arrangement automatically, but this time Barak decided to refrain from doing so.
Barak has ordered his assistants and legal advisors to form new criteria which will allow the addition of new yeshivas to the arrangement.
"The Defense Ministry will not longer be a rubber stamp and will not approve each and every request to shirk military duty," a security source explained.
'25% will be exempted within a decade'
Barak's refusal was derived from the increasing number of haredim who are not drafted to the army. In 2007, 11.2% of Israelis who were not enlisted to the army were exempted due to the "torato emunato" arrangement, and according to the IDF, this number is expected to reach 12.3% in 2011.
According to Major-General Elazar Stern, head of the IDF's Personnel Directorate, 25% will be exempted according to the same arrangement within a decade.
"Today, out of the population not enlisted to the army, there are some 11% who declare that 'Torah is their profession.' We must remember, however, that 25% are first grade students in the haredi educational systems, and if we fail to intervene in this issue, that's where we'll be in several years," Stern told a conference at Bar-Ilan University in November.
The general hinted that many of those who declare that "Torah is their profession" do not really study Torah.
Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the number of yeshiva students exempted from military service has grown from 400 to roughly 500,000. In general, the defense establishment is concerned over the drop in the number of Israelis enlisted to the IDF.
"The IDF's challenges are great and complex, and we need a big and strong IDF," a security source said. "Therefore, we must reduce every attempt not to join the army, both in this aspect of 'torato omanuto' and in other aspects."
Shas: An attempt to dissolve government
The defense minister’s decision raised the ire of numerous ultra-Orthodox leaders. This, though they remain certain that Barak can in no way alter the legal status quo in this matter
As is his custom every morning, Shas Chairman Eli Yishai attended morning prayers at the home of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and updated the Rabbi on Barak’s decision. On Thursday afternoon he said that "Labor is trying to create a crisis in the coalition.
"This initiative is against the law, there is no reason to change an arrangement that has been there for dozens of years," said Yishai, adding he intends to talk to Barak in order to find a solution to the problem.
A senior party official told Ynet that the Labor Party chairman “is looking for every possible way to dissolve the government, and thus will object to any political initiative led by Shas.”
The Shas official noted as an example the Labor Party’s ardent objection to increasing child allowances “which would greatly benefit all Israeli residents,” and furthermore stated that “the Labor Party has found a new agenda in opposing ‘torato omanuto’, but Shas will stick to its principles and whoever does not approve can simply leave the government.”
UTJ: This is more of Barak’s spin
MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) opted to define this decision as merely more media spin emanating from the defense minister. Gafni stated that when he had pointed out to Barak that there are delays in attaining the aforementioned exemptions, the defense minister told him that this is not a problem and that there are no real policy changes on this matter.
Gafni stated that he sees no cause for undue uproar in spite of Barak’s latest announcement. “Barak doesn’t hold the authority to change the existing legislation, and if he were trying to make such a major legislative change he would have informed his fellow party members,” said Gafni, noting that the Tal Law which engrained the notion of “torato emunato” was instituted during Barak’s reign as prime minister.
The defense minister, noted Gafni, can only refuse military exemption to yeshiva students who do not meet the Tal Law criteria or who have lied about their status. “This is not the case in respect to the 61 yeshivas in question, and so to change matter s would necessitate a major legislative upheaval is needed,“ said Gafni.
The Yeshiva Heads Committee was also informed of Barak’s startling decision, and will convene to discuss this situation later this week. Rabbi Asher Tennenbaum, chairman of this committee, also found it difficult to believe that Barak’s decision could alter the legislative status quo.
“All yeshiva students who wish to study the Torah can undoubtedly continue to do so,” said the rabbi, and also noted that he “does not believe that as Jews we can forgo Torah study, as it sustains the Jewish people spiritually and systematically.”
Neta Sela contributed to this report