Former Chief Rabbi of the IDF and Rosh Yeshiva of the Itamar hesder yeshiva (Torah academy) program Rabbi Avihai Rontzki stated to Arutz Sheva Thursday that the canceling of the Tal Law and the government's decision to implement the Equal Burden law was a mistake from the very beginning.
"This is already a situation that is ex post facto, there is no going back, because the legal process involved is complicated and the current government is pushing the issue," he stated. "There was no reason to cancel the Tal Law, which enabled hundreds of religious soldiers to serve [of their own volition]. The whole process of eliminating the Tal Law, the involvement of Senior government officials in the hareidi draft, and the desire to make this a national mission was a mistake."
The Tal Law allowed full-time Torah students to defer military service. Critics of the law were outraged at the fact that large sectors of the hareidi-religious community were using the edict to permanently dodge the draft and stay in yeshiva [Torah academies], causing a number of potential economic and sociological problems; the Law was eventually declared unconstitutional in 2012 by the High Court on grounds of promoting inequality.
According to R' Rontzki, the current government does not have a clear understanding of the importance of Torah study for the Jewish people. "Thousands of people who learn Torah bring tremendous blessing to the Jewish people," he stated. "The problem is that the hareidi-religious community refuses to engage in the same national service that the rest of the country does, and it's an anathema to many."
R' Rontzki, who is a supporter of Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked, stated that she does "good work" in running the Committee for the Equal Burden law.
Despite disagreeing with the law in principle, Rontzki emphasizes that Shaked is pushing to prevent the punishment for draft-dodgers from becoming a criminal offense. Instead, Shaked, following the Jewish Home party stance, supports economic sanctions on draft refusers.
When asked why the Equal Burden committee does not impose sanctions on other draft-dodging members of the population, i.e. Israeli Arabs, R' Rontzki answered that only one injustice can be fixed at a time.
"Anyone who wishes to recieve funding from the State needs to give back in some way," he emphasized. "People are killed in wars defending the Jewish state, and it is inconceivable that the hareidi-religious sector refuses to participate in some way in this mitzvah (Torah commandment)."
R' Rontzki also fired back at criticism from some hareidi leaders, who have insisted that the IDF will turn their congregants away from a religious lifestyle. "Many hareidi men who were drafted until now have not become less religious," he declared, "and critics who say that the IDF is an inhospitable environment for religious life are mistaken."
R' Rontzki's statements follow a particularly heated discussion over the law earlier this week, where IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz also declared that religious soldiers need not fear that an IDF draft will negatively impact their religious lifestyle. "A hareidi soldier will leave [IDF service] still hareidi. Here is a chance for the IDF to become a platform for Jewish unity."
Then, MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) insisted that "The IDF does not have the ability to ensure that the hareidi soldiers will be able to maintain their religious lifestyle, such as segregation from women."
R' Rontzki dispelled those claims, concluding "There are plenty of programs which separate men and women, and thus are appropriate for the hareidi population."
Other religious-Zionist Rabbis have also expressed cautious criticism of the Equal Burden law, proposing that such a law would only exacerbate the problem.
Rabbi Avraham Brown, who formerly worked to bridge the gaps between the IDF and the religious world, panned the decision as a deterrent for potential draftees. “This law will torpedo the enlistment of thousands of hareidi men in the upcoming years,” he warned. “[Even] hareidi men who aren’t learning in yeshiva and were planning to enlist” will not enlist if the law passes.