Development of the Haredi Exemption Law

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Since the establishment of the state, there has been an ongoing debate over the exemption of ultra-Orthodox men from military service. This debate has intensified over the years. This is a short history of the ultra-Orthodox exemption from service in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), from the 1948 until today.

Since the establishment of the state of Israel, there has been an ongoing debate over the exemption of ultra-Orthodox men from military service. This debate has intensified over the years due to the fast growth rate of the ultra-Orthodox society in Israel and the expansion of exemptions granted to yeshiva students throughout the years.

The political decision makers’ longstanding failure to formulate a conscription policy that would garner broad support, and the increasing unrest over the issue of the unequal burden of service in the army, has led the issue of ultra-Orthodox conscription to the doorstep of the Supreme Court.

On three separate occasions, the Court has struck down, on the basis of inequality, regulatory conscription arrangements, proposed by the government and enacted by the Knesset. Consequently, following the latest legislative deadlock, the government is now required to promote new legislation to resolve the issue.


1948 (pre-state) – Yisrael Galili, Chief of Staff of the Haganah, ordered not to conscript yeshiva students included in the "approve lists" to IDF brigades.

1948 – Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion approved the decision, and complied with Agudat Yisrael's request to exempt 400 yeshiva students from military service.

1949 – Defense Service Law enacted. Ben-Gurion applies section 12 of the Law and exempts yeshiva students from service.

1958 – Shimon Peres, then-Director General of the Ministry of Defense, together with the heads of the yeshivas, signs an arrangement to continue the exemption, subject to active yeshiva studies. The arrangement included 3 exceptions: students up to the age of 25 who leave the yeshiva would enlist in the army; students who leave between the age 25-29, will be conscripted for 3 months and perform reserve duty as needed; students who leave after the age of 29 will be inducted into the reserves pool only.

1967 – After the Six-Day War, in light of the gradual increase in the number of draft exemptions, the Minister of Defense determined as part of the arrangement that each year there would be 800 yeshiva students eligible for exemption.

1977 – The Begin government lifted the restrictions on the number of yeshivas whose students are entitled or eligible for exemptions.

1988 – A subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chaired by Knesset Member Menachem HaCohen recommended returning to the restrictions that existed until 1977, but its recommendations were not implemented.

1995 – A Ministry of Defense committee headed by Haim Israeli recommended tightening supervision over the yeshivas, the students who apply for exemption, and anchoring the arrangement in law. The recommendations were partially implemented.

1999 – The Tal Committee, headed by Justice Tzvi Tal, was established by Defense Minister Ehud Barak following the 1998 Rubinstein v. The Minister of Defense ruling, which found exemption with a specific enabling law to be legally impermissible. The Committee discussed the appropriate legal arrangement for the conscription of yeshiva students. The committee's report was published in April 2000, in which it chose an intermediate path, in order to find the most applicable and practical solution.

The main recommendations were: preservation of the "torato umanuto" (lit. the Torah as his vocation) arrangement alongside increasing supervision over implementation and creating alternatives for those who do not wish to continue with the arrangement. Yeshiva students from the age of 23 onwards will be entitled to a "year of decision" in which they may, alongside yeshiva studies, seek employment without losing their "torato umanuto" status. At the age of 24, the young men may choose whether to continue studying at a yeshiva, enlist in the army for regular service, do abbreviated military service or do civilian service.

2002 – The Tal Law – subsequently adopted by the Tal Committee, for the first time regulated the deferral of yeshiva students' military service. The law implemented the "year of decision" notion, creating an alternative of civilian service instead of military service for yeshiva graduates. The law also prohibited employment for those under "torato umanuto" (Torah study as a vocation) status.

(This law was struck down by the High Court of Justice in 2012 because its implementation showed that it did not include sufficiently robust equality in burden sharing mechanisms).

2012 – The Plesner Committee – sought to implement the principle of "service for all" by imposing an obligation for meaningful military or civilian service on the entire population, including the ultra-Orthodox and Arab sectors.

For the Haredim – it proposed military service (24 months), civilian service (18 months) or a request for exemption for 1,500 "outstanding" yeshiva students each year. Those who fail to join either of the tracks will be subject to personalized sanctions, including fines, criminal penalties, and cancellation of social benefits.

The committee set a target of 80% military or civilian service for all Haredi males within four years, and established linkage between the ovarall yeshiva budget and achieving the conscription goals.

For the Arab society – it proposed that in less than a year, civilian service tracks will be established for the Arab population as well.

The report was not adopted by the Netanyahu government, which dissolved the committee after the elections.

2013 – a ministerial committee chaired by Minister Yaakov Perry - the committee formulated two bills that were approved by the government: a Defense Service Law (Amendment 19) and a Civilian Service Law for yeshiva students (temporary order). The law was passed in 2014 after preparation by a special committee of the Knesset headed by Ayelet Shaked. 

2014 – Recruitment Law (Amendment 19 to the Defense Service Law), which included quotas for Haredi service and criminal sanctions against those who evade service. The law includes a three-year "adjustment period", during which the government is required to set progressively increased annual targets for the conscription of no less than 3,300 recruits in the first year. In addition, the law seeks to promote the integration of Haredim into the workforce through positive incentives and enhanced supervision of yeshiva studies, without personalized enforcement.

At the end of the adjustment period, the permanent period in which the legal exemption age is 26 will apply. In addition, 1,800 "outstanding" yeshiva students may continue receiving deferral of service until the age of exemption.

2015 – the automatic time frame for maintaining the recognized status of yeshivas, in which study grants exemption from military service, has been extended from one year to two years.

2015 – New Recruitment Law (Amendment 21 to the Defense Service Law) which included quotas for Haredi service and sanctions, only on the stipulation that recruitment targets will be set by the government and not by law. The adjustment period of the previous law was extended from three years to six years, and another three-year adjustment period was added in which the Minister of Defense could continue to grant service deferrals.

2017 – Amendment 21 was struck down by the High Court of Justice for violating the principle of equality.

2023 – the arrangement established by law for the deferral of Haredi recruitment expired. 

In fact, according to current legislation, the IDF has a legal obligation to recruit all yeshiva students like any other service candidate. 


Development in the High Court of Justice

1970 – Becker v. Minister of Defense – dismissed on the grounds of lack of standing for the petitioner.

1981 – Ressler v. Minister of Defence – dismissed by some of the judges on grounds of lack of standing and others on grounds of lack of justiciability or alleged flaw in judgment by the Minister of Defense when granting the exemption.

1988 – Ressler v. Minister of Defence – discussed the nature of the exemption granted to yeshiva students. Justice Barak ruled that the Minister of Defense has a wide margin of discretion to grant exemptions for non-security reasons, as long as its extent does not materially compromise national security.  Justice Barak saw the legislature's choice to leave the decision in the hands of the minister of defense  as a conscious choice that constitutes a kind of legislative arrangement.

1998 – Rubinstein v. Minister of Defense – the Court determined that following the 1992 Basic Laws, the Minister of Defense does not have the authority to grant a sweeping exemption from military service to large numbers of yeshiva students without explicit authorization by law. The Knesset was given a period of one year to enact appropriate legislation.

2006 – Movement for Quality Government petition of 2002 – a panel of nine judges decided not to invalidate the Tal Law despite its disproportionate impact on the value of equality. President Barak believed that additional time should be given to the government – until the end of the first five years of the temporary order – in order to monitor the success of the processes that the law was intended to promote. Seven other judges concurred with this position.

2012 – Ressler v. The Minister of Defense (2007) – following the extension of the validity of the temporary order establishing the Deferral of Service Law for an additional five years. This time, the High Court decided to accept the petition and strike down the law as unconstitutional. Justice Beinish, who wrote the main ruling, examined the proportionality of the Tal Law in light of data accumulated in the last 10 years on reducing the harm to equality of burden. The number of Haredim serving remains minimal, as is the quality of their service. The law's implementation focused mainly on integrating the Haredim into the country's economy rather than reducing harm to inequality.

2007 – Movement for Quality Government petition – the High Court ruled by a solid majority that Amendments 19 and 21 to the Defense Service Law should be abolished due to violation of the principle of equality.

2023 – Three petitions calling for the conscription of Haredim have been filed, after the legislative arrangement expired in June 2023. 

2024 - The High Court issued an interim order to stop state payments to Haredi yeshivas as of April 1, 2024.