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Israel Freezes Yeshiva Funds Over Draft Deferrals

Halts nearly $3 million in funding to protest haredi deferrals of IDF service

Stephanie Butnick
February 06, 2014
Israeli Supreme Court.(Flickr)
Israeli Supreme Court.(Flickr)

In a bold move, Israel’s Supreme Court has frozen almost $3 million of funding for haredi yeshivas, part of their effort to force the government into ending military deferrals for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, JTA reports. This is the latest development in the ongoing debate over ultra-Orthodox exemptions from IDF service, which, after the Tal Law exempting ultra-Orthodox students from serving in the army was invalidated, took the form of government-approved draft deferrals.

A special court panel ruled 8-1 late Tuesday that state funding for students aged 18-20 who have received draft notices since last summer but did not appear for their induction be withheld from their yeshivas.

The students deferred their draft under the defense minister’s authority.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid said he would immediately halt the funds. The Yesh Atid party he heads made a universal draft law, which it also calls the Sharing the Burden, one of its major campaign issues.

Neri Zilber, writing this summer about the potential consequences of ultra-Orthodox conscription, explained the draft exemption’s root in Israel’s early history:

As is well-known, Ben-Gurion granted the small ultra-Orthodox community in Israel an exemption from army service in order to rehabilitate the Haredi “community of scholars” of Eastern Europe wiped out during the Holocaust. Ben-Gurion, it’s believed, predicted that the ultra-Orthodox community would slowly disappear anyway, melding into the assertively modern Zionist project. The opposite, however, has happened. This “community of scholars” numbered 400 in 1949. Today the figure for exemptions among army-age ultra-Orthodox men is estimated at 50,000.

The push for ultra-Orthodox conscription has, understandably, created a great deal of friction, with United Torah Judaism’s Moshe Gafni telling JTA the Supreme Court’s decision was “a declaration of war against the haredi public in Israel and in the world.”

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.