Government says it isn’t required to draft Haredi men, nor end funding to yeshivas

Position paper comes in response to High Court order to cease subsidizing yeshivas whose students don’t serve in the army

Ultra-Orthodox men arrive at the IDF Recruitment Center at Tel Hashomer, in central Israel, March 28, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox men arrive at the IDF Recruitment Center at Tel Hashomer, in central Israel, March 28, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The government published a position paper on Wednesday arguing that there is no need to immediately conscript ultra-Orthodox men to the Israel Defense Forces and that the government can continue funding the yeshivas in which they study until the end of the year, the Haaretz daily reported.

The paper argues that the absence of legislation allowing “mass abstention from service,” does not automatically mean that the state is obligated to “order a mass conscription.”

Last week, Attorney General Baharav-Miara, following a High Court of Justice ruling on the matter, informed the government there is no legal basis to continue exempting Haredi men from conscription.

According to Haaretz, the position paper disagreed with Baharav-Miara’s interpretation of the law, saying it denies the IDF the authority to use its judgment in how it conscripts, and that the military must first determine whether it’s capable of absorbing yeshiva students.

The government’s position runs contrary to well-established case law. While article 36 of the Defense Service Law authorizes the defense minister to exempt conscription-aged citizens from military service, the High Court ruled in 1998 that mass exemptions must be explicitly sanctioned by Knesset legislation. Subsequent laws passed since have all been ruled unconstitutional by the High Court on the grounds that they violate the principle of equality, leading to the court’s interim order last month that the government must begin drafting ultra-Orthodox men by the end of April and halt funding to yeshivas whose students do not conscript.

The paper seems to have come in response to Baharav-Miara’s refusal to allow the government to utilize external counsel without having presented its position on the issue. The attorney general also said that the option of private representation could only be examined after the state informs the High Court what steps it is taking to begin drafting the Haredi community.

The government is considered obligated to obey the legal opinions of the attorney general, and therefore seeking external legal counsel requires special permission. Baharav-Miara, who was appointed by the previous government, has often been at odds with the current government.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara arrives to attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, July 9, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool Photo via AP)

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.

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 – which saw nearly 1,200 people killed and 253 kidnapped – and the war that has ensued, with the military death toll mounting, soldiers being asked to serve longer amid a manpower shortage, and the threats facing Israel growing.

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