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Israel’s top court rules ultra-Orthodox Jews must be drafted

Seminary students have been exempt from compulsory military service for decades

Israel’s Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that the military must draft ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students into military service, as the war in Gaza stretches into its ninth month and Israel faces a shortage of manpower.

On Tuesday, the court also ordered the government to stop funding religious schools, or yeshivas, whose students avoid the draft.

“At this time, there is no legal framework that makes it possible to distinguish between yeshiva students and those destined for military service,” the court said. “Accordingly, the state does not have the authority to order a blanket avoidance of their conscription.”

In Israel, military service is compulsory for most Jewish men and women, whereas ultra-Orthodox or ‘Haredi’ Jewish seminary students have been largely exempt from conscription since the foundation of the state in 1948.

The exemptions have long sparked anger among secular Israelis and the rift has deepened further since the military called up thousands of soldiers following the outbreak of the Gaza conflict.

“These days, in the midst of a difficult war, the burden of that inequality is more acute than ever – and requires the advancement of a sustainable solution to this issue,” the Supreme Court justices wrote in their ruling.

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The court said there are currently 63,000 draft-age Haredi young men.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews view their full-time religious study as fundamental in preserving Judaism, and distance themselves from secular society, particularly the military, in compliance with strict observance of the faith.

Haredi parties have staunchly opposed attempts to enlist seminary students in the military. The ruling has been condemned by the United Torah Judaism and Shas, two ultra-Orthodox parties in Netanyahu’s ruling coalition.

United Torah Judaism leader Yitzhak Goldknopf wrote on X on Tuesday that the ruling was “expected and very unfortunate.”

“The State of Israel was established to be a home for the Jewish people whose Torah is the bedrock of its existence. The Holy Torah will prevail,” he said.

Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that Israel would continue its campaign in Gaza until it achieves “total victory” over the Palestinian militant group Hamas. On Sunday, he told Israeli media that some of the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) manpower would “shift north” to focus on the border with Lebanon as Israel faces off with the Hezbollah militant group.

June 25, 2024 at 06:28PM
RT

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