MK Elazar Stern
MK Elazar Stern Flash 90

The Knesset’s Equal Burden of Service Committee saw yet another heated debate Tuesday as MKs discussed whether hareidi-religious young men should face criminal charges for refusing to enlist in the IDF. While some say dodging the draft should be a criminal offense, others have suggested that the punishment be economic sanctions instead.

MK Elazar Stern (Hatnua), the former head of the IDF Manpower Directorate, expressed concern over the latter suggestion, which is supported by the Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi) party, saying that it would only punish poorer hareidi families.

“The proposal to use economic sanctions would mean that only those who need money would risk their lives,” he argued.

Stern kicked off with a controversial statement, telling the committee that full-time Torah students should not all be granted a deferral from service. “That’s not the Torah I was raised with. Maybe it’s the Torah some others were raised with,” he said.

MK Moshe Gafni (Yahadut Hatorah) attempted to interject, but was silenced.

“We as a system – assuming that we do need people to learn Torah, we need to put limits on it, because there are other things we need,” he continued. “The country has things that are important besides learning Torah.”

“There is something more important than Torah study, and that is life and death,” he added.

Stern expressed support for a proposal to allow a limited number of hareidi-religious young men to continue to study Torah full time, while requiring the rest to enlist in the military.

For decades, most hareidi-religious young men chose full-time Torah study over military service in an arrangement that was made legal by the Tal Law. The High Court nixed the Tal Law as unconstitutional in 2012, and Knesset members are now meeting in hopes of coming up with a realistic alternative.

Some hareidi leaders – including those involved in hareidi enlistment initiatives – have warned that any proposal that involves mandatory enlistment is doomed to fail, as most hareidi men will prefer not to enlist even if the alternative is sitting in jail.