A brief history of draft exemptions for the ultra-orthodox in Israel

A brief history of draft exemptions for the ultra-orthodox in Israel

With the Tal Law and Plesner Committee dominating the news, I searched in vain for a straightforward English-language background piece to summarize the history of ultra-orthodox draft exemptions in Israel and contextualize the implications of today’s political debates. So I produced one myself.  Comments welcome.
Torato OmanutoTorah study is his craftarrangement
First Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister David Ben-Gurion exempts 400 senior ultra-orthodox (haredi) scholars from draft so they can study in yeshiva full-time.
Ben-Gurion motivated by desire to avoid political conflict with ultra-orthodox and to help revive the haredi community and its yeshivas which were decimated by Holocaust.
First Likud government expands Torato Omanuto Menachem Begin’s Likud government removes existing cap (800) on deferment eligibility and relaxes eligibility conditions.  Number of deferments rises to 17,017 in 1987, 26,262 in 1995, 28,772 in 1997, and 61,000 by 2010.
Supreme Court ruling in Rubinstein v. Minister of Defense
Led by its chief justice, Aharon Barak, Court rules that original objective for yeshiva student deferment no longer valid, and that wholesale deferrals lacked legal authorization. Court demands that Knesset introduce legislation.
Tal Commission formed
In wake of Rubinstein v. Minister of Defense, PM and DM Ehud Barak creates special commission, headed by former Supreme Court Justice Tzvi Tal, to deal with special military service exemption for ultra-orthodox.
July 2002
Tal Law passed by Knesset
New law gives haredi yeshiva students automatic draft deferral if they study Torah full-time.  Law offers 22 year-old yeshiva students the option of continued study, one-year unpaid civil service job alongside a paying job, or a shortened 16-month military service and future service in reserves.
Law defined as ‘temporary’, with need for re-approval every five years.

May 2006
Supreme Court ruling in Movement for Quality of Government v. Knesset. 
Supreme Court postpones final determination on the constitutionality of the Tal Law to a later date. The Court rules that more time is needed to see if the inequality inherent in the law is justified by achieving its ‘proper purpose’: Increasing haredi IDF enlistment and workforce participation without coercion.
The Court warns that if no actual change takes place, the Tal Law could be declared unconstitutional at a later date.
Summer 2007
Tal Law extended
Tal Law is extended for an additional five years.
January 2012
“Suckers’ camp”
Dozens of IDF reserve soldiers start a makeshift “suckers’ camp” in Tel Aviv to protest Haredi draft-dodging, under the banner, ‘Everyone Serves’.
February 2012
Supreme Court ruling in Resler v. Knesset Israel’s Supreme Court declares Tal Law unconstitutional, ruling that it violated the right to equality, had not achieved its purpose, and, in practice, had merely continued the situation that was in practice before its passage.

Court rules that the Knesset cannot renew law’s validity beyond August 1, 2012 expiration date.
May 2012
Plesner Committee formed
Israeli government sets up high-level “Committee for the Advancement of an Equal Burden” (headed by Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner) to write new law to replace the Tal Law.
July 2, 2012
Plesner Committee disbanded
PM Netanyahu disbands Plesner Committee, citing inability to reach general consensus among all its members, which includes representatives of both the haredi community and the Suckers’ Camp..
August 1, 2012
Tal Law will expire.  All deferrals will legally cease.  IDF will theoretically be empowered to draft all Haredi yeshiva students, but without political backing, this scenario is doubtful.  .

By | 2012-07-03T17:35:00-04:00 July 3rd, 2012|Blog|3 Comments


  1. Anonymous February 20, 2013 at 2:06 am - Reply

    what are your sources?

  2. […] held the balance of power in coalition governments – the arrangement expanded, until tens of thousands of Haredi young men were exempted (61,000 in 2010, the latest figure I could […]

  3. […] often held the balance of power in coalition governments – the arrangement expanded, until tens of thousands of Haredi young men were exempted (61,000 in 2010, the latest figure I could […]

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