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Dramatic decision: Israel’s High Court rules to stop funding for ultra-Orthodox students eligible for IDF draft

Ultra-Orthodox parties threaten to leave coalition as draft exemptions expire

Jewish yeshiva students study at the Kamenitz Yeshiva, in Jerusalem on August 22, 2023. (Photo: Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

In a dramatic decision with potentially far-reaching consequences, the Israeli High Court on Thursday ordered the government to stop paying stipends to ultra-Orthodox yeshiva schools for students who, until now, were exempted from being drafted into the Israel Defense Forces.

The interim order was issued after the law providing exemptions for most ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) men from army service expired, and the government failed to propose an alternative to boost the number of recruits among the eligible Haredi men.

Despite initial fears that this court decision could directly lead to the government’s dissolution, Haredi leaders expressed outrage but seem poised to stay in the coalition at the moment.

While the High Court suspended funds intended for yeshiva students aged 18-26, the age the draft exemption has kicked in until now, the court did not stop the funding for men above 26, allowing yeshivas to continue receiving some financial assistance.

In addition, the court has not yet ordered the government to carry out the draft among ultra-Orthodox men, a move which could lead to widespread clashes between the Haredi population and the police across the State of Israel.

United Torah Judaism (UTJ) Knesset Member Moshe Roth told the Times of Israel on Friday that if yeshiva students are drafted, the party “will leave the coalition.”

“Although,” he added, “the decision lies with the council of Torah elders,” a council of senior rabbis that decides the party’s policy.

Still, many Haredi politicians expressed outrage at the court decision, which Shas party leader Aryeh Deri called an “unprecedented maltreatment for Torah study in the Jewish state.”

The most popular Haredi newspaper Yeted Ne’eman on Friday featured an article entitled, “The Holy Torah will win,” a play on words on the slogan “Together we will win,” which became popular in Israeli society in the aftermath of Oct. 7.

The UTJ party accused the judicial system of declaring “an all-out struggle” against Torah study, with UTJ leader Yitzhak Goldknopf calling the decision a sign of disgrace and contempt.”

“The State of Israel arose to be a home for the Jewish people whose Torah is a Torah of truth… Without the Torah, we have no right to exist,” he added.

War Cabinet minister Benny Gantz, who served as defense minister and is a former IDF chief, praised the court for its decision, arguing that  “the issue is not the High Court of Justice or the prosecutor who does her job faithfully, but our need for soldiers during a difficult war, and the need of our society for everyone to take part in the right to serve the country.”

“The High Court ruled the obvious today, the time has come for the government to do the obvious. It’s time for action,” Gantz added.

Last month, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vowed to refuse any new legislation that didn't have support from every part of the government coalition.

Ultra-Orthodox men have so far been exempt from being drafted into the Israeli military. According to current Israeli law, they are eligible to receive stipends for studying in yeshivas.

After the current draft law expired in 2023, the government extended it temporarily until March 31. Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara told the High Court that once the law expires, ultra-Orthodox men will need to be drafted and the stipends can no longer be paid.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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