A new drafting of the Tal Law has met its first roadblock. The law, which gives exemptions to Israeli religious students from the IDF draft, has long been a hot button issue in the Knesset. In last week’s stunning coalition deal, Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz made reform to the law a contingent of his joining Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
Now, Mofaz appointed Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner head of a committee charged with writing new legislation to replace the old. The current Tal Law expires July 31. While Netanyahu promised to consult with leaders from the ultra-Orthodox parties, which are included in his own coalition government, the drafting will likely rescind exemptions for Yeshiva students. The move prompted an announcement from Shas party chairman Eli Yishai that his group will not participate in the drafting committee.
"The quotas are non-negotiable and neither is the [students'] basic right to study the Torah,” Yishai said. "The contribution of Yeshiva students to the people of Israel and the Jewish people is well known to any observant Jew.”
Yishai added that his party will come up with its own solution to the drafting currently being worked on by the newly formed committee.
Likewise, United Torah Judaism MK’s announced they would leave Netanyahu’s coalition should Yeshiva students be kept from their studies. Over the weekend, MK Moshe Gafni was quoted in a weekly Israeli paper as saying that spiritual leader Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman “explicitly instructed us to resign [from the government] immediately if there were an attempt to block the study of Torah from our students.”
Netanyahu’s government has relied on support from the ultra-religious sections of the Knesset in the past. However, his deal with Kadima gives the prime minister the electoral support needed for reform without threat of losing power should the far right rescind its backing.
The Tal Law has been in place since 2002, originally designed as a way for Yeshiva students to put off the required military service until their schooling was finished. The law failed to promote later service, however, and an Israeli high court declared earlier this year that a new write up be submitted, creating the July 31 deadline.