Israel’s top court scraps the draft exemption for ultra-Orthodox Jews

February 22, 2012

(Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men from the Rachmistrivka congregation attend the celebrations for Tu Bishvat, The Jewish Arbor day, in Jerusalem February 7, 2012. REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

Israel’s top court struck down on Tuesday a law designed to encourage ultra-Orthodox Jews to join the military and the workforce, saying it had backfired by “entrenching” their blanket draft exemptions and protracted seminary studies.

The ruling was welcomed by Israel’s secular majority but could set off rifts in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative coalition government, which includes powerful religious Jewish parties.

The 2002 “Service Deferral Law” offered the ultra-Orthodox, who make up 10 percent of the population and are often welfare dependant, a choice, upon reaching draft-age, between studying in seminaries or working. The latter option entailed first enlisting in the military, with the possibility of serving in technology units where soldiers can learn a trade.

But by a vote of 6-to-3, the Supreme Court declared that the law, which was subject to review, was unconstitutional and ordered it not be renewed after it Expires in August.

“As time passed it became clear that the law had not realized the objectives that lie at its foundations, and that it in fact entrenched, for the most part, the arrangement of service deferral that had existed prior to its enactment,” the court said in a summary of the ruling, citing the low military enlistment of ultra-Orthodox candidates.

“The law was enacted with a hope that it would ignite a societal process which would lead to a situation in which, even without imposing any duty, ultra-Orthodox people would wish to serve, or to perform civil service. However, the hope that accompanied the law was dashed.”

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