Will ultra-Orthodox Jews have to join the army?

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As Israel’s war on Gaza continues amid ongoing hostilities with Hezbollah in Lebanon, there have been growing calls from the Israeli government and society to enlist ultra-Orthodox Jews, also known as Haredim, to serve in the military.
It has been a bone of contention for decades as the ultra-Orthodox have always been exempt from mandatory military service.
Who is enlisted into the army and who is exempt?
Israel requires every Israeli citizen who is “Jewish, Druze or Circassian” to serve in the military from the age of 18.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews have been exempt since Israel’s founding in 1948.
Devoting their lives to religious studies, the men live off of donations and state benefits subsidised by other Israeli citizens.
Nearly 600 Israeli soldiers have been killed in fighting since the start of the war and more than 3,000 have been wounded, according to the Israeli army.
Last week, thousands of ultra-Orthodox protested against the court’s order outside Bnei Brak in central Israel this week.


The Israeli government and Israeli society are calling for the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox Jews, or Haredim, in the armed forces as the country’s war on Gaza drags on and hostilities with Hezbollah in Lebanon continue.

The ultra-Orthodox have always been exempt from mandatory military service, which has been a point of contention for decades.

The Supreme Court issued an interim ruling last week, directing the suspension of state funding for Jewish seminaries in the event that students disobeyed the draft, since Israel’s coalition government was unable to pass legislation to prolong the exemption before it expired on March 31.

Following the government’s hurried application to the Supreme Court for a 30-day postponement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now has one month to come up with a solution.

The Supreme Court extended the deadline for further arguments from government representatives to April 30.

Who gets drafted into the military and who doesn’t?

Every citizen of Israel who identifies as “Jewish, Druze, or Circassian” must enlist in the military as soon as they turn 18. Women serve for a minimum of two years, and men serve for roughly three years.

Muslim or Christian Palestinian citizens of Israel are not required to enlist in the military.

Jewish men who study the Torah full-time in seminaries are also granted an annual deferment from enlisting until they turn 26. After that, they are no longer eligible to enlist because they have reached the military’s minimum age. Young, ultra-Orthodox women are not included.

Since 1948, when Israel was established, ultra-Orthodox Jews have been granted exemptions. After the Holocaust, 400 community members were granted exemptions by the nation’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, to enable them to study and preserve sacred Jewish knowledge and traditions.

Why are the ultra-Orthodox being pressured to enlist right now?

Since the ultra-Orthodox community has a high birthrate and currently makes up around 13 percent of the population, exemptions for them have become an increasingly problematic issue over time. The community is predicted to make up a third of the population in 40 years due to its fertility rate of more than six children per woman.

The men live off donations and state benefits that are subsidized by other Israeli citizens while dedicating their lives to religious studies.

There is a “unequal burden between the ultra-Orthodox and the non-ultra Orthodox,” according to Yossi Mekelberg, associate fellow at Chatham House in London, a think tank that specializes in Israeli and Middle Eastern politics, as he told Al Jazeera.

66,000 community members were released from military duty last year, which was considered a substantial amount of manpower that the military could use in the Gaza War.

Legislators were urged to pass legislation terminating exemptions by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant last month.

“Manpower is currently needed by the army. He declared, “It’s a mathematical issue, not a political one.

Since the beginning of the war, the Israeli army claims that over 3,000 soldiers have been injured and nearly 600 Israeli soldiers have died in combat.

Who is speaking for the Haredim?

The ultra-Orthodox claim that serving in the military conflicts with their moral principles. There are those who are against Zionism because they think that creating the state of Israel would delay the coming of the Messiah.

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews demonstrated outside the court’s ruling in central Israel’s Bnei Brak last week in opposition to the ruling. “To jail and not the army,” “We will die rather than draft,” and “Stalin is here” were among the placards they carried. “.

Netanyahu’s coalition’s ultra-Orthodox political party, Shas, is led by Aryeh Deri, who stated last week that justices on the Supreme Court went above and beyond “to start a fratricidal war.”.

“The High Court of Justice’s decision undermines the cornerstones of the State of Israel’s Jewish identity,” he declared on X.

What is going on in the political arena?

Netanyahu’s coalition has almost collapsed due to the debate. Even though polls indicate that most people support enlisting the ultra-Orthodox, Netanyahu’s government includes two ultra-Orthodox parties, and their expulsion could lead to fresh elections, which the public believes he would lose.

Leader of the centrist National Unity and war cabinet member Benny Gantz announced that his party would resign from government if laws were to be passed exempting the ultra-Orthodox from military duty.

Although recruiting the ultra-Orthodox into the army is still “a long process,” Mekelberg stated that it is “hard to see how [the court] is going to change its mind” regarding its interim ruling.

“To mobilize them, you need a special unit with them because they won’t serve with women, they need special kosher foods, and they’re not known for being physically fit, which is a requirement in the army; they don’t regularly play football and go to the gym,” he stated.

As long as the students attending their rabbinical seminaries do not enlist in the armed forces, the High Court of Justice declared that public funding for these institutions will not be provided. They won’t be able to survive without these budgets and resource allocations. This is going to completely transform the conversation. “.

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