AG to government: ‘No legal basis’ for continuing to exempt Haredim from IDF

Baharav-Miara rebuffs state request for separate representation in High Court cases on the issue; thousands of Haredim protest outside IDF enlistment center in Jerusalem

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox men protest against the drafting of Haredim to the IDF, Jerusalem, April 11, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Thousands of ultra-Orthodox men protest against the drafting of Haredim to the IDF, Jerusalem, April 11, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara on Thursday informed the government that there is “no legal basis” for continuing to exempt members of the ultra-Orthodox community from being drafted into the Israel Defense Forces, as thousands of Haredim protested plans to move toward greater enlistment from the community.

Baharav-Miara’s warning came after the government lodged a request to be represented privately in court, instead of by her office, which has rejected efforts to maintain blanket military exemptions for Haredi men.

The attorney general responded that this option could only be examined after the state informs the High Court what steps it is taking to begin drafting the Haredi community, which it has been ordered to do by the end of April.

Writing to Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs, the attorney general reiterated her position that the IDF must begin drafting Haredi conscripts immediately. “The concept expressed in your letter, according to which the government can for the time being refrain from recruiting yeshiva students… is not anchored in any legal basis.”

Most Jewish Israeli men are required to serve nearly three years followed by years of annual reserve duty, while many Jewish women serve two years. Arab Israelis are not required to serve, though some volunteer.

But the politically powerful ultra-Orthodox, also called Haredim, who make up roughly 13 percent of Israeli society, have since the foundation of the state received exemptions if they are studying full-time in a yeshiva or religious seminary.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara arrives to casts her ballot for the head of the Israeli Bar Association in Tel Aviv on June 20, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The exemptions — and the government stipends many yeshiva students receive through age 26 — have infuriated the wider general public.

That frustration has peaked since Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught and the war that has ensued, as soldiers are losing their lives, and some are being asked to lengthen their reserve service amid a manpower shortage and as the threats facing Israel grow.

Ultra-Orthodox men clash with police during a protest against the Haredi draft, Jerusalem, April 11, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The attorney general’s letter was published as thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested outside an IDF enlistment office in Jerusalem, holding signs reading, “The Israeli authorities are persecuting Torah scholars” and “To prison and not to the army,” and shouting that they would choose death over enlisting.

The gathering included speeches from officials in the extremist Jerusalem Faction, and there were reports of some of the protesters clashing with police officers securing the event.

Meanwhile, Shas appeared to distance itself from Interior Minister Moshe Arbel, himself a member of the ultra-Orthodox party, after he endorsed the idea of enlisting some members of the Haredi community.

Arbel said in a recent podcast appearance that ultra-Orthodox leaders needed to show “courage,” and declare that “those whose status has been revoked and who are eligible for conscription must be part of those bearing the burden [of service].”

Interior Minister Moshe Arbel attends a Knesset committee meeting, in Jerusalem, April 1, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shas said in response that “the subject of the conscription law and the status of yeshiva students is entrusted exclusively to the rabbis of the Council of Torah Sages and is managed by the movement’s chairman Rabbi Aryeh Deri and his representative to the negotiations Rabbi Ariel Atias.”

“The movement’s representatives were instructed not to comment on the issue at all,” the statement continued, adding that its official position will be communicated “exclusively” via official party channels.

According to national broadcaster Kan, Arbel was referring to yeshiva students who were denied the status of full-time Torah students by Vaad HaYeshivot (Yeshiva Committee), a body that coordinates between ultra-Orthodox yeshivas and the Defense Ministry on matters of service deferments.

Arbel’s comments echoed those of his fellow Shas Minister Ya’akov Margi, who told the Kikar Hashabbat website in February that members of the Haredi community not engaged in full-time Torah study should be drafted “by force.”

However, both ministers’ rhetoric stands at odds with that of Rabbi Moshe Maya, a senior member of Shas’s leading Council of Torah Sages — the body that directs the party — who recently stated that even those who do not learn full-time in yeshiva should not serve in the IDF.

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