Israeli Supreme Court rules that the military must begin drafting ultra-Orthodox men

An Ultra-Orthodox Jewish man wears handcuffs as he sits on a street during a protest against army recruitment in Jerusalem on June 2. Leo Correa/AP

In a landmark ruling that threatens to unravel Israel’s government, the country’s Supreme Court has ordered the military to begin drafting ultra-Orthodox men, who’ve long been exempt from service. Tuesday’s decision was unanimous, and comes amid intensified public opposition to the policy following the Hamas-led attack on Israel last year, and the months-long war in Gaza that has strained the military’s resources.

For years, Israel’s Supreme Court has held that the religious exemption violated laws on equal protection. In its new ruling, the court said the state was carrying out “invalid selective enforcement, which represents a serious violation of the rule of law.”

The court also kept in place a freeze on subsidizes for religious seminaries, or yeshivas, whose young students declined to enlist, a measure it first imposed in March.

Before Tuesday’s ruling, the Israeli government had repeatedly extended the waiver, but it has been unable to pass a law that would make it permanent, or allow for a more limited draft of ultra-Orthodox men. During recent court arguments, the AP reported, government lawyers said forcing them to enlist would “tear Israeli society apart.”

With conscription of the ultra-Orthodox now set to start, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now faces the prospect of eroding support within what was already a fragile coalition keeping him in power. Two politically powerful ultra-Orthodox parties are key to Netanyahu’s governing coalition and staunchly oppose drafting their constituents. If they left the coalition, it could cause Netanyahu’s government to collapse and trigger new elections.

Comment: Israelis subject to the draft are fed up with the coddling of the ultra-Orthodox. Will the ultra-Orthodox parties desert Netanyahu and cause his government to fall or will they suck it up and send their sons and daughters to serve in the IDF?


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27 Responses to Israeli Supreme Court rules that the military must begin drafting ultra-Orthodox men

  1. Yeah, Right says:

    Israeli law states that EVERYONE – irrespective of ethnicity, nationality or religion – is subject to call-up for compulsory military service.

    The only exception is – I believe, though I might be wrong on this – pregnant women, who are no allowed to be called up.

    But the law also grants the Minister of Defense the authority to not call up any “person or group” at his discretion. He doesn’t need to give a reason, he just has to decide he doesn’t want that “group” in his gang.

    Take the case of the Druze, where year after year the Defense Minister decided he didn’t want them, so they were never called up to serve i.e. he could have called them up, but invariably chose not to.

    Which, obviously, is not the same as them being “exempt”.

    The Druze complained about this (many government services are preferentially granted to ex-servicemen, so the Druze got fed up at the discrimination).

    The DoD heard them out and decided that, yep, OK, fair point.

    So now Israeli Druze are called up for their compulsory service just as surely as Israeli Jews are called up.

    The long and short of it is that there is no new law required for this court ruling to be given effect.

    None at all: the ultra-orthodox avoid being called up purely via the administrative prerogative of the DoD, and the Minister could decide tomorrow that, no, I’ve changed my mind and will now call up this “group” to be in my gang.

    Netanyahu and his abominable coalition really have no excuse not to carry out this court decision.

    • John Minehan says:

      Many Druze volunteered to serve before, have since 1948..

      Among the Haradi, there are Yeshivas set up like COL(R) Lang’s Alma mater (military training for all while getting educated . . . .)

  2. mcohen says:

    That is probably a huge contingent of purely drone pilots right there.Drone on is in there blood

    • F&L says:

      “their” not “there.”
      So there.

      • mcohen says:

        Although being highly intelligent i never excelled academically due to being only 40% deaf which i only discovered later in life.However i simply ignored the rules of grammar and rewrote the rule book to suit me.
        Funnily enough,i never bothered writing much of anything until gadget one finger waltz came along and i discovered that holy sheet there are 2 forms of “there”.Indeed it was poetry that sharpened up the pencil a bit.Unfornately i still make mistakes

        Here is one about fisherman

        In the hour before dawn,
        We are a tyrants pawn.
        A ticking clock as our mind races on,
        This life we live,a race never won.
        The cards we are given,the ones we are dealt,
        The burning flame that we have felt.

        So arise from your slumber,sharpen your blade,
        Into the battle must you wade.
        Ships are sailing as you slip out to sea,
        The blowing wind shall set you free.
        Cast your nets,there is a bounty to catch,
        Pull them onboard,then down the hatch.

        In the hour before dusk,
        A day sheds its husk.
        Stars glow faintly in the coming night,
        As the sun slips away from our sight.
        The approaching storm lies straight ahead,
        No sleep tonight in a welcoming bed.

        All hands on deck the captain calls,
        As we sail into the howling squalls.
        In the hour before dawn a calm returns,
        Up ahead a guiding light burns.
        A fishermans life is a perilous lot,
        With net and knot does he fill his pot

  3. morongobill says:

    The ultra orthodox have been the driving force behind the settler movement for decades, about time they starting fighting themselves for it.

    • elkern says:

      From what I’ve read, they often fight [Palestinians] for territory/property in the West Bank, just not as part of the IDF. So, they are quite willing to fight, just not under the command of the Israeli Government.

      • James says:


        The ultra orthodox are very good at “fighting” Palestinians when they have M-16s and the Palestinians are unarmed. As soon as a Palestinian starts shooting back the ultra orthodox run away and call in the army. Bullying people or carrying out pogroms does not count as fighting in my book.

  4. Fred says:

    Why would they turn on Bibi when they are not in his party nor is the court under his control?

    • TTG says:


      The ultra-Orthodox parties are a necessary part of Netanyahu’s governing coalition. They expect him to kiss their ultra-asses.

  5. babelthuap says:

    Highly unlikely they will be serving in a combat role but regardless, they never were exempt. Similar to the Amish. These guys aren’t going to be firing mortars and doing drone strikes. Amish have been drafted but they were put on jobs doing remedial tasks. I assume the same will happen with these Jewish Amish as I like to call them.

  6. elkern says:

    IIRC, military exemption for the Ultra-Orthodox was part of a deal cut at/near the inception of the [modern] State of Israel, to patch over a political divide between religious and secular Jews there. The Ashkenazi Jews fleeing Europe were generally less “religious” than the [native/Middle-Eastern?] Sephardic Jews, and also far more socialist (they started the Kibbutz movement).

    The Ultra-Orthodox must have been horrified by the modern ideas of the European immigrants. Like Fundamentalists of every creed, they are extremely patriarchal, and would never have accepted the idea of drafting [their] women.

    Assuming that the Ultra-Orthodox forbid marriage outside their sect, that would eventually create a kind of ethnic divide between them and [all] other Israeli Jews. I presume that they consider themselves to be the [only] “real” Jews, and view the more secular Ashkenazi majority with something between suspicion and contempt, perhaps little better than the British, Ottomans, or Mamluks who ruled the region for centuries?

    I know my understanding of this political/religious/cultural division is woefully simplistic, and I hope others here can explain the history better (and correct my errors!).

    • Mark Logan says:


      The Haredi were European jews, and indeed were reactionaries to modernization. I suspect the local Jews who lived in the ancient Jewish enclaves of Palestine and MENA before the creation of Israel did not fell a compelling need to fight against modernity or argue doctrine over-much with their kin, and the phenomena was entirely imported.

      To the subject at hand I expect Bibi to pull an Andrew Jackson on this: “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it.” If an Orthodox jew is ever actually prosecuted for ignoring a draft notice under Bibi’s rule I would be surprised.

      • LeaNder says:

        The Haredi were European jews, and indeed were reactionaries to modernization.

        Yes, a very fascinating larger topic. The Haredim versus the Misnagdim. Emotion and God’s presence in everything [an idea I actually like 😉 ] vs reason and the Jewish Enlightenment or Haskalah, which has some impressive representatives. Joseph Perl is a little less known.
        <Sex, Magic, Bigotry, Corruption—and the First Hebrew Novel. In 1819, Joseph Perl published Hebrew literature’s first novel. A riotous satire of the ḥasidic movement, it remains largely and unjustly forgotten.

        … The more the strength of the Ḥasidim grew, however, the more they struck back. By the 18th century’s end, the two camps were in a state of outright war. Book burnings, excommunications, economic boycotts, physical violence, and houndings of ḥasidic and misnagdic minorities by misnagdic and ḥasidic majorities were common. Neither party shrank from what had always been considered, even in the fiercest of Jewish disputes, to be beyond the pale: informing on one’s fellow Jews to the Gentile authorities. In 1798, and again in 1800, misnagdic complaints to the Russian government led to the arrest and imprisonment of Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), the father of the Ḥabad school of Ḥasidism, on charges of sedition and illegal currency dealings. (On both occasions, he was thoroughly questioned and freed.) In 1799, Ḥasidim accused misnagdic communal officials in Vilna of embezzling public funds; once again there were police detentions and investigations.

        • Mark Logan says:


          Thanks, interesting stuff.

          I recall David Habakkuk once mentioning that with the Enlightenment and Jewish emancipation the isolated communities across Europe and Russia started communicating and discovered that over the course of many centuries of isolation that they had diverged greatly, and the ones he was talking about in England found they had little or nothing in common with their eastern brethren. I suppose it’s natural for any religion in this condition that a struggle for the “true” definition will begin, and struggle spawns polarization.

          • LeaNder says:

            It’s a pity he isn’t still around. I enjoyed our debates/disputes a lot. His views about our presence would be interesting.

            But yes, the ‘official’ isolation of Jews in the UK may well have lasted up to the Age of Enlightenment. We may all keep arbitrary bits and pieces on our minds. … mine in the context of Enlightenment/Jewish Haskalah would be: Jews, Enlightenment and historical consciousness. Maybe it still pops up since, I never took a closer look at the topic, after a sentence in whatever book left this stubborn trace. Quite possibly I did not understand as the author wanted me to. All I recall is, it made no sense to me at the time. Lots of Marranos in the UK as in the Netherlands and elsewhere in times up to Enlightenment. Witness forerunner Spinoza. 😉

    • Yeah, Right says:

      They aren’t “exempt” from military service. That would require legislation to give effect to that exemption.

      They are as subject to being called up for military service as any other Israeli citizen, and the only reason they aren’t called up is purely administrative.

      That is why this order from the court is so alarming to them: Netanyahu can’t delay enacting this order by dragging his feet in terms of drafting new legislation, because none is required.

      All that is needed is for the Minister of Defense to change his practice of ignoring Ultra-Orthodox when it comes time to deciding who out of this year’s crop of draftees he is going to call up, and who he is going to leavebe.

  7. P S C says:

    The main job for the ultra-orthodox is their ability to outbreed the Palestinians. And they have done an outstanding job of it.

    Some of these children leave the community and assimilate into the more secular society. This is why they are given special treatment.

    • John Minehan says:

      An interesting insight and I’ve heard that from others.

      Since all Israeli Officers serve as Enlisted Conscripts first. many of the Secular/Modern Orthodox who serve attend Yeshivas or secular Universities that also provide military training.

  8. F&L says:

    I’ll have this playing in the background during the televised debate later tonight.

    The Irish Rover – Dubliners.

  9. mcohen says:

    Hot weather coming up north this evening.

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