Conscription has been an integral part of Israeli life since directly following its founding in 1948 and is considered the backbone of the nation. Mandatory military service has a number of merits, including bonding each and every enlistee with their homeland and instilling in them a true grasp of the dangers facing Israel. While at first blush it seems the majority of the country has or will serve in the Israeli Defense Forces, estimates reveal that roughly only about half of Israeli citizens are actually drafted into the military.
Those who have criminal background, are physically or psychologically impaired or who have religious considerations are typically exempt from service. Now, however, that rule is changing, at least where Israel's Haredi community is concerned.
Haredi is a term used to describe the broader Hassidic community, comprising those of both Ashkenazi (Eastern European) and Sephardic (primarily but not exclusively Middle Eastern and North African) origin. Its members had been exempt from conscription under the Tal Law, which expired three months ago. Now the IDF is rolling out a gradual draft for Haredi students to commence early in 2013. Israel National News explains:
Three months after the expiration of the Tal Law, which regulated exemptions from IDF service for Hareidi yeshiva students, the State informed the High Court that the IDF would begin drafting 18 year old Hareidi students beginning next summer. The plan was revealed as part of the State's response to a petition by groups demanding that the army begin drafting Hareidi students, with the exemptions furnished by the Tal Law now expired.
While the IDF was anxious to comply with the law and send out draft notices to Hareidi students, the State said in its statement to the Court that the process needed to be gradual. “There are serious issues involved in organizational planning and execution” for drafting Hareidi students, including ensuring that the food they receive are of the rabbinical supervision they require, and that they can serve in surroundings where no women are working," the statement said.
Because of these considerations, the IDF plans to begin slowly with a partial draft in at the start of 2013, with through 2015, when a full-Haredi draft is expected to be solidified. INN adds:
Several new brigades will be established for the recruits, the State said. However, the statement said, the IDF would much prefer to work within the framework of a Knesset law, which would take into account the needs of the IDF and its ability to absorb Hareidi recruits, which, the State stressed, was a very challenging issue. Absent that, the IDF was looking for guidance from the government as to whom will be eligible for an exemption as a “genius student,” a category the Court decision said could be applied to a limited number of students who excel in their studies.
Given that even Israel's populace has become increasingly liberal, with its more conservative communities remaining the lone bastions in the fight (both literally and figuratively) against the horde of agressors surrounding the Jewish State, the young Haredi recruits could prove to be effective new additions to the nation's defense forces. One issue, however, is that certain contingents within the Haredi community are markedly anti-Zionist, lending its own set of challenges to the IDF. Whether the move will prove beneficial, we soon will see.