Amsalem: Very few yeshiva students should be exempt from military service

Amsalem: Very few yeshiva students should be exempt from military service

Maverick ultra-Orthodox MK blasts failure of aggressive ultra-Orthodox politics

Former Shas MK Haim Amsalem in the Knesset, December 2011 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Former Shas MK Haim Amsalem in the Knesset, December 2011 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Very few people within the ultra-Orthodox community are “killing themselves” in the study of Torah and every 18 year-old male must do his part in sharing the burden of national service, according to MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem, who established Am Shalem as a breakaway from the Shas party with which he was elected to the Knesset.

Speaking on Israel Radio on Monday morning, Amsalem emphasized that “Torah goes together with earning a living. The Rambam (Maimonides, the preeminent 12th century Jewish philosopher and legal scholar) ruled that it is incumbent upon every man to set aside one third of every day to Torah study and one third to working.” Any 18 year-old physically capable of military service should serve, and whoever is not able to serve in the military should perform an alternate national service, Amsalem said.

Amsalem also blasted what he referred to as the failed aggressive ultra-Orthodox politics, which have provoked the general public, he said.

During the broadcast, MK Isaac Herzog (Labor) said that according to the framework originally established by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, the primary objective should be to exempt a very limited number of yeshiva students from military service. The current problem, according to Herzog, is that the Plesner committee is inherently flawed and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is exacerbating the situation by undermining all of the committee’s recommendations.

Speaking at a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday morning, committee chairman Ronnie Bar-On (Kadima), said that whatever law replaces the Tal Law must have meat on it, not just be “skin and bones.” The prime minister needs to make a courageous and painful decision, Bar-On said, without waiting until August, at which point some 60,000 yeshiva students who should be enlisting in the military will become draft dodgers.

The Committee for the Advancement of an Equal Burden, which is headed by MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima), was established to draft a replacement for the Tal Law, struck down by the Supreme Court earlier this year. The Tal Law had allowed for military deferments for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, and the committee has been seeking to come up with a solution for sweeping draft deferments among Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox.

Yisrael Beytenu and the Jewish Home party left the committee last week following Plesner’s announcement of the committee’s intention to grant Arab Israelis who avoid national service a sweeping exemption from the personal sanctions that would be leveled on ultra-Orthodox draft-dodgers.

Beyond the aspect of military service, there is also an interest in incorporating the ultra-Orthodox and Arab sectors into the workforce. On Monday morning, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz warned at a Finance Ministry conference in Tel Aviv that if a significant portion of the Arab and ultra-Orthodox population is not integrated into the workforce within the next 10-20 years, the economy will suffer greatly and cannot be expected to continue growing at its current annual rate of 4%. However, Steinitz said that he opposes forcing people to serve in the military.

“When we talk about a nationally mandated service,” Steinitz told the conference, “that has to mean either military or national (civil) service.” Steinitz said that nothing can be gained “if we have thousands of volunteers forced to be there doing work against their will.” Steinitz questioned the feasibility of forcing “equal service” in either the military or in national service.

“It’s not sharing an equal burden if one person cleans the synagogue in which he prays while others are serving in the Armoured Corps,” Steinitz said. “And it is not efficient to fund projects of enforced national service when there is no equal distribution of the burden.”

Steinitz said that having everybody serve in the IDF would be the “just” solution, but it is more important first for everyone to share the financial burden of the country.

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