High Court rules law on ultra-Orthodox army deferrals unconstitutional

Dramatic decision overturns Tal Law, which for a decade has enabled yeshiva students to avoid the military draft

Ilan Ben Zion is an AFP reporter and a former news editor at The Times of Israel.

Reserve soldiers protest against the Tal Law in Jerusalem. (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash 90)
Reserve soldiers protest against the Tal Law in Jerusalem. (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash 90)

The High Court of Justice struck down a decade-old law Tuesday that allows yeshiva students to defer their army service.

The Tal Law, as the measure is known, was seen as a sticking point in relations between the ultra-Orthodox and other Israelis, some of whom resented having to serve in Israel’s mandatory army while others were granted exemptions.

According to the majority opinion — written by outgoing court President Dorit Beinisch and marking a dramatic instance of judicial intervention — the state failed to demonstrate the law’s efficacy in  fulfilling its goal of increasing ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) draft numbers and minimizing draft discrimination.

The Tal Law grants Haredi men a deferral from mandatory military service until the age of 22 if they study full-time in a yeshiva. But since, by that age, they are often already raising a family, Beinisch noted, the Tal Law effectively acts as an exemption.

The measure, which was due to be renewed by the Knesset this year, was struck down by a 6-3 vote, with the High Court saying the law could not be renewed.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak lauded the High Court’s decision. Haaretz quoted him saying, “The Tal Law, after 10 years, did not meet expectations, nor did it lead to the required changes in all aspects concerning equally sharing the burden and expanding the number of citizens who undertake the civilian obligations.”

Channel 1 News noted that in 2010 only 600 Haredi men enlisted in the IDF because of the Tal Law.

Meretz party chairwoman Zehava Gal-On praised the ruling as an advancement of equality in Israeli society, Walla! news reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the Knesset will draft a revised law in the next few months that will afford Haredi men exemptions from the IDF in a more judicious manner.

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