Ultra-Orthodox enlistment in IDF plummeted in 2018 — report
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Ultra-Orthodox enlistment in IDF plummeted in 2018 — report

In first drop in a decade, 2,440 Haredim were inducted into the armed forces in 2018, down from 3,070 the previous year

A religious Jewish soldier is embraced by an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family member after a swearing-in ceremony for the  IDF Nahal Haredi unit, at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, May 26, 2012 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
A religious Jewish soldier is embraced by an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family member after a swearing-in ceremony for the IDF Nahal Haredi unit, at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, May 26, 2012 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox enlistment in the IDF declined precipitously in 2018 in the first drop in more than a decade, with 2018 seeing a 20 percent decrease in the number of Haredi recruits over the previous year, according to the Haaretz daily, which saw as-of-yet unreleased recruitment figures gathered by the IDF’s Manpower Directorate,

Many in the ultra-Orthodox community shun military service, which is mandatory for other Jewish Israelis, and the community has historically enjoyed blanket exemptions from the army in favor of religious seminary studies.

The figures reported Sunday showed 2,440 ultra-Orthodox soldiers inducted into the armed forces in 2018, a shortfall of 800 compared to the government’s recruitment goal for the year. In contrast, 3,070 ultra-Orthodox soldiers were recruited in 2017, Haaretz reported.

The number of recruits identified as ultra-Orthodox had until now grown year-over-year since 2007. There are a number of Haredi units in the IDF, such as the Netzah Yehuda (Nahal Haredi) combat battalion, in which the majority of Haredi soldiers serve.

File photo of soldiers from Nahal Haredi, an ultra-Orthodox battalion in the IDF (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of soldiers from Nahal Haredi, an ultra-Orthodox battalion in the Israel Defense Forces (Abir Sultan/Flash90, File)

The overwhelming majority of the ultra-Orthodox recruits who are not in units specially designed for the ultra-Orthodox no longer identify as part of that community, Haaretz reported, citing sources with knowledge of the matter.

The number of newly drafted Haredi soldiers serving in nonreligious frameworks increased from 19% in 2018 to 40% in 2019.

Israel’s current political deadlock can be traced back to political wrangling over the enlistment of yeshiva students. In May, less than two months after voters appeared to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a mandate to form a new government, coalition talks collapsed after Liberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party refused to join the government.

The sticking point was a draft law obligating Haredi men to participate in Israel’s mandatory military draft. Ultra-Orthodox parties wanted to soften the text of the law. Liberman insisted he would not join the government unless the law was passed in its current form.

The Defense Ministry-drafted bill being debated would have set minimum yearly targets for ultra-Orthodox conscription that, if not met, would trigger financial sanctions on the yeshivas where the students study. At the same time, it would also formalize exemptions for the vast majority of yeshiva students.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men clash with police during a protest against the army draft in Bnei Brak, November 20, 2017. Yossi Zeliger/Flash90

According to a December 2018 report by the Israel Democracy Institute, the pace of Haredi integration into both the workforce and academy has slowed significantly, indicating a “worrisome” trend in Israeli society.

The IDI reported that full-time yeshiva enrollment had increased among Haredim, rates of employment had slowed and fewer members of the community were enrolling in secular higher education.

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