AG warns High Court: If Haredi draft exemption expires, so does yeshiva funding

Gali Baharav-Miara notes that the looming expiration of deferral in dealing with ultra-Orthodox enlistment ‘affects the legality of providing support for those students’

Ultra-Orthodox soldiers attend a swearing-in ceremony as they enter the IDF 'Nahal Haredi' unit, at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem on May 26, 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox soldiers attend a swearing-in ceremony as they enter the IDF 'Nahal Haredi' unit, at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem on May 26, 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara told the High Court of Justice on Thursday that as long as there is no law granting exemptions to ultra-Orthodox students, the government cannot continue to fund the yeshivas they attend.

Ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students receive state-paid stipends for studying in yeshiva within the framework of the law allowing them to receive annual military service deferrals until they reach the age of exemption, but that law expired last year.

In order to buy time to re-legislate the highly controversial law, the government passed a cabinet resolution temporarily allowing the state not to draft ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students until March 31, 2024.

Responding to a petition by the Civil Democratic Movement of Israel against ongoing funding of the yeshiva students under these circumstances, Baharav-Miara wrote that the clauses of the law governing the yeshiva stipends state that they can only be given up until the student receives conscription papers, should that happen.

“The absence of a normative framework that would allow the postponement of [military] service or the exemption of recruitment of yeshiva students according to law, affects the legality of providing support for those students, in accordance with the criteria for providing support,” the attorney general continued.

Baharav-Miara was essentially stating that if the cabinet resolution is not extended beyond March 31 and expires, it will then be legally problematic to fund yeshiva students.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara arrives to cast her ballot for the head of the Israel Bar Association at a voting station in Tel Aviv on June 20, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Although the monthly stipend for each ultra-Orthodox student is relatively low, it comprises an important element of the monthly income of married yeshiva students, without which their household economy becomes fragile.

This could create problems for the ultra-Orthodox political parties and the coalition should the High Court of Justice refuse to extend the expiration date for the cabinet resolution.

The attorney general’s opinion came a day after she requested an extension on the rapidly approaching March 31 deadline to pass a draft exemption law, answering separate petitions against the current arrangement.

Baharav-Miara’s office pointed out Wednesday that without an extension to a government resolution from June 2023 — which temporarily permitted the government to not draft ultra-Orthodox men while a solution was formulated — the state will not be legally entitled to continue exempting the group from military conscription and will need to start enlisting them on April 1.

In 2017, the High Court struck down legislation allowing the blanket exemption of Haredi men from military service as discriminatory, and gave the government one year to pass new legislation that would boost levels of ultra-Orthodox military enlistment. Due to numerous elections that occurred in the interim, it has since given the state multiple extensions to that deadline.

Haredi men who decided to join the IDF following the October 7 onslaught by Hamas arrive at recruiting offices in Tel Hashomer, near Tel Aviv, October 23, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The Attorney General’s Office told the High Court of Justice on Wednesday that the government was engaged in “intensive” efforts to formulate new legislation to regulate exemptions from military service for ultra-Orthodox men, and asked the court for a further extension to a rapidly approaching March 31 deadline to pass such a law.

The ongoing war in Gaza and the massive call-ups by the military put off any such legislation, with public appetite for prolonging the current state of affairs at a nadir, and amid growing calls for young Haredim to share the burden of service to the country with the rest of the public.

Ultra-Orthodox men of military age have been able to avoid the military draft for decades by enrolling for study in yeshivas and repeatedly obtaining one-year military service deferrals provided for Haredi yeshiva students until they reach the age of military exemption — an arrangement legislated on several occasions by different governments, up until it was struck down for the third time by the High Court in 2017.

The court has, however, been generous with the extensions it has granted the state, in light of the potentially explosive societal situation in which tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox young men would face imprisonment if they refused to enlist, should the extensions to the deferral arrangement not be extended.

Haredi religious leadership is fiercely opposed to young men enlisting in the army, arguing that their religious studies are more important. Fear of young men losing their ultra-Orthodox identity during military service is also a key factor in the opposition of Haredi rabbis to enlistment, and has led Haredi political parties to apply heavy pressure on numerous governments to perpetuate the blanket exemptions.

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