An Important Supreme Court Ruling

Justice has been served at last.

In a unanimous, long overdue and important decision handed down on June 25, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the decades-long exemption enabling ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students to evade compulsory military service and receive government subsidies rests on no legal basis, and that the Israeli armed forces are free to draft the evaders immediately.

Tellingly enough, three of the nine judges who are religiously or moderately observant, Noam Sohlberg, David Mintz and Yael Wilner, were in favor of the ruling.

They understood that haredi students are not entitled to special treatment, particularly at a moment when Israel is bogged down in a protracted war in the Gaza Strip and may yet have to fight what will surely be a costly all-out war with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Since the eruption of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7, more than 300 Israeli soldiers have been killed. They courageously laid down their lives to protect their homeland from Palestinian terrorists whose oft-stated objective is Israel’s destruction.

And in the north, 15 Israeli soldiers have fallen since Hezbollah launched its aggressive rocket and missile attacks in a tangible show of solidarity with Hamas.

As the death toll mounts, 63,000 yeshiva students blatantly avoid conscription, forcing secular and observant able-bodied men to shoulder the immense task of defending Israel from its array of enemies in the south, the north and the east.

Approximately 1,000 haredi males voluntarily serve in the armed forces today, and 2,000 haredim offered to join in the weeks after the October 7 massacre perpetrated by Hamas. But that is a drop on the ocean compared to the tens of thousands of young Israelis who bear arms and risk their their lives every day on behalf of the state.

This is patently unfair, outrageous and a luxury Israel cannot afford, as the Movement for Quality Government in Israel pointed out in a statement today. “This is a historic victory for the rule of law and the principle of equality in the burden of military service,” said the organization whose petition led to the high court ruling.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews in religious seminaries have been exempt from the draft since 1948, when only 400 to 500 were enrolled in yeshivas. This was a reasonable number, but since then, the situation has gotten completely out of hand. Far too many eligible young men are flagrantly evading national service.

The time has surely come when they must share the burden and serve in the military or fulfill their duty in an institution in need of extra manpower. This could be a hospital, a school or an old age home.

Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip

The outmoded system that supports blanket military service exemptions is simply unsustainable in the wake of October 7, as the chief if staff of the armed forces, General Herzi Halevi, has noted.

It should not be perpetuated because secular political parties, such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, require the support of ultra-Orthodox politicians to remain in power.

An enlistment bill  currently being debated in the Knesset would lower the current exemption age for yeshiva students from 26 to 21. And while this is a step in the right direction, it falls short of the mark because it is bound up with the status quo regarding the issue of conscription.

A very limited number of gifted yeshiva students should be allowed to study Torah in seminaries, but all the others must be conscripted without question or debate.

Israel is the world’s only country whose very existence is still dependent on its ability to defend itself. That being the case, all its citizens are obliged to serve in the armed forces.