Replacing the Tal Law: Israel’s Democracy at Work

Replacing the Tal Law: Israel’s Democracy at Work

Zachary Fisher

Israeli Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz on Monday defended his choice to bring Kadima into the new governing coalition, which will concentrate on passing a new budget, changing the political system, and advancing the peace process. As part of the agenda, Mofaz added, the coalition will focus on legislative reform, specifically addressing the Tal Law.

The Tal Law, enacted ten years ago, exempts full-time yeshiva students from serving in the army. The law enables students to delay their service until the age of 23; at which time the student can continue studying full time, participate in a shortened term of army service, or perform a year of unpaid national service. The law, which must be extended every five years, was declared unconstitutional in February by Israel’s Supreme Court. A committee has been established to help create a replacement.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu (L) shakes hands with Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Repealing the Tal Law has caused as much controversy as enacting it in the first place. The haredi (ultra-orthodox) parties Shas and United Torah Judaism announced they will not send representatives to the replacement committee. The haredi parties oppose repealing the law because, as they argue, it is an attempt to keep Torah students from their studies and implies that Torah studies are less important to Israeli society than is military service.

However, not all haredi sects oppose army conscription or repealing the law. Chabad-Lubavitch, one of the most globally prominent ultra-orthodox groups, recently finalized an agreement with the Israeli government that will allow young men to enlist for three years of army service following one year at Chabad’s New York City yeshiva. In addition, Rabbi Chaim Amsalem, an independent MK formerly aligned with Shas, is leading a new Sephardic haredi movement that proposes that young religious men serve their country out of a sense of duty. According to the rabbi, Torah study without learning a trade and serving the country fails to prepare even the greatest scholar for life as an Israeli adult. It is also noteworthy that members of the non-haredi Dati Leumi (national-religious) community are drafted into the IDF and many have military careers.

Still, most ultra-religious Israelis oppose repealing the Tal Law and Israel’s government faces a major challenge in replacing the legislation; the process to do so may prove to be long and arduous. However, now is as good a time as any to reevaluate the secular-religious status quo set forth by David Ben-Gurion upon Israel’s modern creation. In a democracy, internal ideological battles are fought with words rather than swords. The current verbal skirmishes within and without the new coalition regarding the Tal Law are simply cases of Israel’s vibrant democracy in action.