JERUSALEM (VINnews) — The Israeli cabinet approved Sunday a proposal to lower the exemption age for IDF service for yeshiva students from 24 to 21.
At present a student studying in yeshiva cannot join the workforce or study academic disciplines while deferring army service for his studies until the age of 24. The cabinet bill, which was proposed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, aims to lower the age for exemption to 21 in order to enable more young chareidim who are not studying in yeshiva to join the workforce or commence academic studies.
The bill is for the next 2 years, after which the exemption age will be raised to 22 and then to 23. However even at that point, those who enter the labor market by undergoing professional training or by training for security, rescue or emergency activity will be exempt from the age of 21 from IDF service. In the meantime, a team of representatives from the Prime Minister, Defense Minister and Foreign Minister will assess ways to encourage IDF service via national or civilian service and will establish “new, wide-ranging, and updated plan that meets security, economic and social needs in Israel,” the prime minister said.
The cabinet decision will take effect after it is passed in the Knesset, but the prime minister urged the Knesset Legislative Committee to prepare the legislation immediately.
“For decades the State of Israel has consistently chosen to cut off its nose to spite its face, as it were, out of anger over ultra-orthodox who do not serve,” Bennett said, noting that the same population was also compelled not to join the labor market until they were older.
“Today, we are putting a stop to this and opening the labor and employment markets to ultra-orthodox young men,” Bennett said, “allowing freedom of choice for many thousands of ultra-orthodox young men, without coercion and without tanks in Bnei Brak.
“This is the long and correct road on behalf of the national interest,” Bennett said. “Integrating the ultra-orthodox sector into the employment market is a goal of the highest order, for all of us.”
Chareidi reactions to the new proposal were mixed, with the heads of yeshivas expressing staunch opposition to the proposal since it could lead to many yeshiva students abandoning their studies to go out and work even at a relatively young age. Chareidi politicians are relieved that they will have less issues of draft dodging to deal with, but journalist Yishai Cohen writes that simply allowing chareidim to join the workforce will create another problem since the army has annual quotas of chareidi conscripts which it tries to meet and when they are not met, the result is economic sanctions on the yeshivos. Thus the net result of allowing more chareidim to join the workforce will be less money for yeshivos.