Israel: Religion and the Secular State
January 27, 1999

The Conversion Issue
Reform & Conservative Jews on Religious Councils
Opening Kibbutz Stores on the Sabbath
Drafting Yeshiva Students
Political Implications

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Drafting Yeshiva Students

On December 9, an expanded 11-justice panel of the High Court of Justice ruled that the current situation in which yeshiva students are granted deferments from Israel's military draft (which, in practice, usually turn into full exemptions) is illegal and should be changed by legislation. The court warned the Knesset that if it failed to act, the court itself would cancel the existing system of deferments.

The deferment for yeshiva students was first approved by David Ben Gurion. In the early days of the state, the exemptions numbered a few hundred each year. By 1988, the number had jumped to 18,350 and by 1997 the total had reached 28,772. This figure represents 7.4 of those eligible for military service. Moreover, according to the State Comptroller, 40% of those receiving deferments break the conditions of the deferment, usually by working and/or not studying.

While a group of ultra-Orthodox youth were drafted this month in a special program tailored to their religious sensitivities and some ultra-Orthodox MK's have expressed willingness to see yeshiva dropouts inducted, the MKs vowed that the present system, in which all those who study Torah receive deferments, must continue.

Next: Political Implications

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