Combat soldier at prayer
Combat soldier at prayerIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Almost all political leaders have welcomed the High Court decision Tuesday night that the ‘Tal Law” for religious exemptions from the IDF is illegal, although it is another example of the High Court interfering with legislation that is under review in the Knesset.

The law was named after the Tal Committee’s suggestion, adopted in law in 2002, allowing young men to learn in yeshiva with a deferral from enlisting until the age of 22, when they can decide whether to serve in the army or continue to learn. Those who opted to go to work were obligated to four months of army duty or one year of civilian service.

The government admitted several years ago that the law did not achieve its aim of significantly increasing the enlistment of those who wanted to forego army service altogether in favor of learning in yeshiva.Others feel that a gradual process has begun and cite the Nahal Hareidi and Shachar Kachol projects for hareidi soldiers which grow in size significantly each year.

The High Court ruled by a 6-3 vote that the law violates Israel's Basic Law for Human Dignity and Freedom because it contradicts the principle of equality. The law, since Israel has no constitution, is interpreted broadly by the Supreme Court and was used by former Chief Justice Aharon Barak to say that "everything is justiciable".

The justices said the law can remain on the books for the time being but cannot be extended when its time limit expires in several months.

There was no unified bloc of justices on either side of the decision. Among those in favor of striking down the law were outgoing court president Dorit Beinisch, a declared secular justice who has consistently ruled against Jewish outposts in Judea and Samaria, and Neil Hendel, a graduate of Yeshiva University and who is known to have national religious views.

Voting against striking down the Tal Law were Asher Dan Grunis, who will replace Beinisch next month as president and who is religious, but is against "justiciability", and Edna Arbel, another secular justice who has not been favorable to a Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria.

The majority of justices concluded that the government failed to implement the law, creating a situation of inequality.

The head of the commission that drafted the law,, Tzvi Tal, is a retired Supreme Court judge who lost a son in one of Israel's wars. That did not influence his guidance of the commission where he emphasized the need to take into account the hareidi lifestyle and the need to refrain from forcing change rather than having it take place gradually.

Justice Grunis wrote in his dissension that the judicial system has not done any better than the government to encourage the enlistment of hareidi religious Jews.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has said he wanted to extend the law in altered form, said after the ruling that the government will present a new law within six months to “lead to a more just share of the burden of military service” among Israelis.

Leaders of almost all parties except for Shas and United Torah Judaism welcomed the ruling. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, has made the elimination of the Tal Law a principle of his party’s platform so he welcomed the work being done for him by the court. Opposition from his party and the Independence faction to the law’s extension led Netanyahu to back away last month from his plan to advance the law without change.

Kadima also praised the ruling. Party leader Tzipi Livni accused the government of "enslaving” Israel’ future's in favor of a minority.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who was on the Tal committee that recommended the law, said that it has not met expectations and should be eliminated.