Young women soldiers
Young women soldiersIsrael news photo: IDF BaMachaneh

The Knesset Law Committee approved the text of a new bill on Sunday that would crack down on young women obtaining exemptions from IDF service by means of declarations of religious observance. The bill, if made law, would establish more stringent criteria for the exemption.

Due to a ruling by many rabbinical authorities that women should not serve in the army, any Jewish girl of draft age who declares her objection to being drafted on religious grounds is given an exemption. Under current law, the declaration must be made before a civil or rabbinical court judge, including a statement to the effect that the young woman observes the Sabbath and kosher dietary laws.

Under the new bill, draft-age girls seeking religious exemptions would also be required to declare that they were enrolled in a religious educational institution for at least two out of the three years preceding their exemption request. They would also have to obtain an official certificate from the school as evidence of their claim. For those girls who were not enrolled in a religious educational institution, the law would permit the draft board to make a religious exemption decision on a case-by-case basis.

The recently drafted bill was proposed in the wake of reports of an increase in the numbers of girls who are not observant claiming religious exemptions from the draft. The IDF Manpower Department recently released figures showing that most draft-age girls request a religious exemption from the draft. In eight percent of the cases, the military has found the declarations to be fraudulent. In a recent effort, the IDF employed private investigators and apprehended 80 young women who falsely declared themselves to be religious in order to obtain a draft exemption. IDF sources added that in the past year, 570 women were recalled to the draft board and admitted to having made false declarations of religious observance to get out of serving in the army. They were all subsequently drafted even though there is no shortage of manpower in the IDF and it does not need the girls.

The bill has already caused a political rift between government members. If it appears that the bill will become law, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) warned his party will challenge the coalition.

Education Minister Gidon Saar (Likud) responded to the UTJ threat by saying, "We, too, have matters of principle, such as service in the IDF."