Israeli cabinet approves law to conscript ultra-Orthodox Jews

July 7, 2013

(An Israeli soldier straps on a phylactery to his forearm as he stands next to ultra-Orthodox Jewish men at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem’s Old City February 22, 2012. REUTERS/Baz Ratner )

Israel’s cabinet approved a draft law on Sunday to abolish wholesale exemptions from military duty granted to Jewish seminary students, stoking ultra-Orthodox anger over the break with tradition.

Many Israelis have long bridled over state priveleges handed to the conservative believers or “Haredim” – a Hebrew term meaning “those who tremble before God”.

The debate heated up when elections in January saw strong performances for two parties who campaigned against the exemptions and created the first cabinet in a decade without ultra-Orthodox members.

Most Israeli men and women are called up for military service for up to three years when they turn 18, and often see active service in the occupied West Bank and other flashpoints.

But ultra-Orthodox men studying in seminaries, religious women and Arab citizens of Israel have been exempted since the Jewish state was formed in 1948.

Under the proposed law, only 1,800 of those students, designated “outstanding biblical scholars”, would get an exemption, out of the estimated 8,000 who become eligible for the draft every year.

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