Hundreds of hareidi Jews gathered Monday outside Kele Shesh – the military prison at Atlit – to protest the incarceration of two yeshiva students. The two, who are aged 18, did not show up at the IDF's Recruitment Bureau despite receiving summonses to do so.
The issue of hareidi enlistment is a wedge issue in Israel, and a law currently being debated by the Coalition would toughen sanctions on hareidim who avoid enlistment, and on the yeshivas where they study.
Secularist party Yesh Atid demands that criminal sanctions be put in place against hareidi men who avoid army service or alternative national service. Hareidi leaders claim that Torah study is more important than serving in the army, and insist that the system that grants full-time yeshiva students exemption from service be extended.
Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, agreed with hareidi leaders to grant exemptions to 400 yeshiva students per year, in 1948. By 1968 the number was 800. However, the number grew exponentially over the years, partly as a result of the political alliance between Likud and hareidi parties, which began in 1977. By 2005, there were more than 40,000 yeshiva students who received exemption for Torah study.