Despite Election Spotlight, Netanyahu May Resist Change in Haredi Draft Exemption

Premier Still Needs Support of Ultra-Orthodox Parties

Status Quo: Benjamin Netanyahu is facing pressure to end the exemption that ultra-Orthodox men enjoy from serving in the Israel military. But he’s also seeking the support of Haredi parties, meaning little may change.
getty images
Status Quo: Benjamin Netanyahu is facing pressure to end the exemption that ultra-Orthodox men enjoy from serving in the Israel military. But he’s also seeking the support of Haredi parties, meaning little may change.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published February 26, 2013, issue of March 01, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 3)

The Prime Minister’s Office declined a request from the Forward to respond to this and to other criticisms of its proposal.

Lipman said that Yesh Atid is demanding a draft for all Haredim when they reach the age of 18, with the exception of 400 outstanding students. It wants to create more Haredi-only units and to cater to the religious demands of Haredim to make service culturally acceptable in the community. Lipman says that this can happen, that the Haredi community will reduce its opposition and that there “won’t be massive numbers [of objectors] going to jail.”

Yesh Atid’s one leniency toward the Haredi sector is its five-year lead-time for a draft, or in Lipman’s parlance, the “amnesty.” Currently, the condition for receiving an exemption is that Haredi men are enrolled in yeshiva, and if enrolled, they are legally barred from working. The Yesh Atid plan says that this rule should be canceled for five years, opening employment opportunities to any Haredim who don’t want to study but wish to avoid the draft.

Yesh Atid, like Netanyahu, believes that many Haredim have no interest in studying in yeshiva and are enrolled simply to receive an exemption. An “amnesty,” it hopes, will disprove the Haredi community’s claim that the draft undermines a culture of near-universal yeshiva study.

Yedidia Stern, the author of another prominent draft proposal, finds the idea of the amnesty absurd. If it were implemented, he said, Haredim would be exceedingly careful to safeguard their community’s narrative on yeshiva study, and they would ensure that students do not leave and prove Yesh Atid correct. “If the leadership of the Haredi community will understand that the next five years is a test case for Torah study, then the pressure on people to stay in yeshiva will be enormous,” he predicted.

Stern, who is vice president of research at the Israel Democracy Institute, argues that Yesh Atid’s proposal is based on a cultural misunderstanding about what motivates fear of the draft. He said, “The real reason they do not go to the army is the feeling that if a boy of 18 who has spent his life in a ghetto and not seen beyond it won’t come out of the army the same way he went in, they fear he will stop being Haredi, and the fear is that the community’s identity could be over.”

Stern’s solution is to estimate when Haredi men are confident in their identity and to wait until then before drafting them. According to his research, at 22 some 77% of Haredi men are married, suggesting that they are “culturally solid.” Also, he hopes that a draft of men at that age won’t trigger fear of widespread abandonment of a Haredi lifestyle.

Stern’s aim is that by 2022, two-thirds of Haredi men in the 18 to 22 age bracket will be serving or will have served. Like Netanyahu, Stern wants some financial pressure on individuals to enlist, but he places the major emphasis on financial penalties for yeshivas that send few students to the draft office. The difference is that Stern wants penalties to grow year by year, until they reach a point where a yeshiva that fails to send students for the draft could face closure.

“Within about six years they will lose almost everything they get and won’t be able to survive,” Stern said. This, he claimed, would make any retrenchment impossible.

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.