Israel cuts army exemption granted to ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who study Torah for life

By Reuters Staff
March 13, 2014

(Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men study at Jerusalem’s Mir Yeshiva, the largest Jewish seminary in Israel July 4, 2012. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

Israel’s parliament on Wednesday approved a contentious law that abolishes blanket military exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students, ending a tradition upheld since the state’s foundation.

Finalised after months of political wrangling and likely to spark ultra-Orthodox rage, the legislation will be implemented fully in 2017 and limit the annual number of ultra-Orthodox men excused from compulsory military service to 1,800 granted “gifted scholar” status.

The issue is at the heart of a raging national debate over “sharing the burden” of life in a country where most Jewish men and women are called up for military service when they turn 18.

Most ultra-Orthodox Jews, or “Haredim”, a Hebrew term meaning ‘those who tremble before God’, have been exempt from conscription.

Under the new law, the government will set an annual enlistment quota for ultra-Orthodox seminary students. If that quota – the 2017 target is 5,200 – is not met, conscription notices will be served to all but the 1,800 top scholars, with criminal penalties for any draft-dodging.

Ultra-Orthodox legislators, along with opposition lawmakers protesting against a series of bills this week that they view as undemocratic, boycotted the parliamentary session. But they voiced their anger on a “Haredi” website after the 67-1 vote.

Read the full story by Maayan Lubell here.

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