Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet on Sunday approved a bill that will result in the military conscription of most of Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jewish males by 2017.
Until now, the vast majority of ultra-Orthodox males have opted out of national service, a fact that has caused a deep rift between religious and secular Israelis, the latter feeling that they were carrying too much of the national security burden alone.
Many of the parties that fared well in Israel's legislative election earlier this year had vowed to finally remedy this problem, including the religious Jewish Home faction.
The bill passed Sunday's vote with a count of 14 in favor, zero against and four abstentions. It will now go to the Knesset, where it is almost certain to pass into law, as even the main opposition Labor Party supports bringing the ultra-Orthodox into the IDF and, hopefully, into the national workforce.
A number of compromises were made in the bill to bring it to this point.
If the bill becomes law, it will require all Israeli Jews, including ultra-Orthodox, to answer the call of mandatory military service, with a few exceptions.
- Ultra-Orthodox females can still opt out of national service;
- Rabbis can annually mark 1,800 prize Torah students who will be exempt from national service so they can continue studies;
- and all ultra-Orthodox males can defer their national service for up to three years in order to first complete studies.
When Israel first declared independence in 1948, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion agreed that a limited number of religious Jews would forgo army service so they could focus on Bible studies and prayer, which he considered just as important as wielding a gun in the nation's defense. However, for decades that agreement has been abused and manipulated to win exemption for nearly all ultra-Orthodox Jews, resulting in a loss of over 10,000 conscripts every year for the IDF.