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Netanyahu discusses new law that would lower military exemption age for ultra-Orthodox Israelis

While military service is mandatory, the overwhelming majority of ultra-Orthodox Jews do not serve in the IDF due to religious and ideological reasons

Ultra-Orthodox Jews clash with police as they protest against the arrest of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who failed to comply with their army draft, in Jerusalem, Sept. 29, 2022. (Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu consulted with his coalition partners on Sunday concerning military draft legislation that would lower the military exemption age for ultra-Orthodox Jews. 

If implemented, the legislation would lower the military exemption age for service in the Israel Defense Forces from 26 to 23, or possibly to 21. 

While military service is mandatory for most Israeli Jews, the overwhelming majority of ultra-Orthodox Jews do not serve in the IDF because of religious and ideological reasons. This reality has led to significant tensions between the ultra-Orthodox community and the general Israeli public. 

The ultra-Orthodox community in Israel is characterized by significantly lower employment rates, especially among its men. The IDF age-exemption legislation aims to encourage ultra-Orthodox men to enter the workforce once they complete their yeshiva studies, the traditional religious Jewish education. 

There are indications that the proposed legislation would be acceptable to the Israeli army. 

A senior IDF officer said the new law “does not violate the balance” of drafting soldiers from Israel’s diverse population segments. However, he stressed the need for “appreciation of service people.” 

A small minority of ultra-Orthodox Jews do enlist voluntarily for military service. The IDF has designed military programs that cater to the unique ultra-Orthodox lifestyle, including all-male military units, kosher food and separate prayer services. 

“The IDF will continue to develop unique [draft] routes for the ultra-Orthodox population,” the senior officer said. 

The goal to integrate more ultra-Orthodox into Israel’s workforce is connected to the battle over Haredi school education. Most ultra-Orthodox schools do not teach mathematics, English or science, considered crucial skills for the modern era.

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

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