Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Binyamin NetanyahuIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to deliver an "alternative to the Tal Law within six months" on Monday.

Netanyahu met Monday with IDF reserve soldiers at the so-called 'suckers tent' protest camp in Tel Aviv who oppose extending the law.

The reservists maintain hareidi men who do not serve in the IDF are not pulling their fair share of the burden of military and national service.

"We know we should divide the burden in a better and more just way," Netanyahu said. "Unlike previous governments, which automatically extended the Tal Law by five years, we've decided to do things differently – to bring the Tal Law to a vote before the Knesset."

"We know we must come up with a better and more just solution, but not one which divides the people. We have six months to do so. I really believe it'll happen within six months. I'll bring the government's proposal to the Knesset," he promised.

One of the protest leaders told Netanyahu: "The Tal Law shouldn't be extended, not by an hour and not by a year. Do you pledge not to extend the Tal Law?"

Netanyahu responded, "Wait, you're getting ahead of yourself." When the activist persisted Netanyahu said, "Are you running for the Knesset? You're sure displaying promising signs."

The Tal Law, named for observant Supreme Court Judge Tzvi Tal (ret.) who headed the committee that drafted the law,  allows yeshiva students over the age of 22 to take a year off their studies in order to obtain professional training or work experience without being drafted.

After that year, they must commit to abbreviated army service, a full year of national service, or return to full-time Torah  studies.

The law was passed by the Knesset in July 2002 and, in 2007, was extended by an additional five years. Until it became law, full time yeshiva students could not work at all without losing their exemption permanently, resulting in some older students working clandestinely to support growing families so as to avoid a long period of service when already a parent and impoverishing many of those who remained in yeshiva full time. The law was drafted to encourage them to join the work force as well as fulfill army duty.

Critics of Netanyahu, who heads a coalition that includes both Haredi parties and secular nationalist parties who oppose the Tal Law, say he has passed the issue to the Knesset in order to divest himself of a political hot potato.

Netanyahu's pledge to deliver an alternative to the Tal Law came hours after Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced his Yisrael Bateinu party would vote en bloc against the Tal Law. Yisrael Bateinu has been joined by the Jewish Home, which MK Zevulun Orlev says will also vote against the law.

Should the Tal Law be struck down it is possible the Hareidi parties in Netanyahu's government would chose to bring down the government and force new elections.

Observers say Netanyahu is trying to buy time and hold his government together as his Likud party - riding high in the national polls - heads for primaries.

Critics of the push to annul the Tal Law note the IDF does not have a sufficiently robust program in place to integrate large numbers of hareidi men at one time. Such a framework - like the Hesder programs for religious Zionist men or brigades such as the Nahal Hareidi and religious vocational IDF programs such as Shachar Kachol- would have to be created before large numbers of hareidi men could successfully enter the IDF.

Due to the extant framework for religious Zionist men, youth from those communities now enlist at a higher per capita rate than other segments of the population and are swelling the IDF officer corps. Last year it was reported roughly half of the IDF junior officer corps were religious.

Those who support renewing the Tal Law for the present point to a growing trend of IDF service among hareidi men that signals a slow, but steady, shift towards engagement with Israeli's defense and their own economic needs.