Despite ultra-Orthodox protests, there has been a dramatic increase of 39 percent in the number of new Israeli army recruits coming from the Haredi sector this year.
That impressive figure was presented by the Israeli army at a meeting of the ministerial committee established to monitor implementation of the new “equal burden” law passed amid growing frustration among secular Israelis that the Orthodox community was not pulling its weight.
The law initially set the ambitious goal of 2,000 ultra-Orthodox recruits in its first year. That goal was very nearly reached with 1,972 from the Haredi community joining the army over the past 12 months.
Of the 1,972 young Orthodox men who showed up for military recruitment, 863 chose to serve in combat units. Various infantry brigades, such as the Nahal and Givati brigades, have established special battalions for Orthodox recruits to help those soldiers maintain their religious lifestyle while serving their nation.
“This data represents the start of a social revolution in Israel,” declared Science Minister Yaakov Peri, who heads the equal burden committee. “We pushed through the legislative process despite dire predictions and repeated warnings about how the Haredi community would react in an extreme and negative way.”
The committee’s other members praised the work that went into further integrating the Orthodox community in a professional and sensitive manner.
According to the equal burden legislation, Orthodox recruitment is expected to increase each year, and by 2017 the government expects 5,200 annual recruits from the Haredi community. By that time, the government intends to issue only 1,800 full exemptions per year to Orthodox Jews who will study Torah in lieu of national service.
The increased military recruitment is also have another hoped-for positive effect in that a lot more Orthodox Jews are entering the work force.
Figures released by the Ministry of Economy showed that while only 734 ultra-Orthodox men had approached the ministry’s job placement services in the first half of 2013, that number had nearly tripled to 2,135 during the first half of 2014.
About half of the job applicants are young people aged 18–27, who the ministry will assist with counseling, workshops and other efforts to enable them to fully integrate into the mainstream economy.
“This is a dramatic change not only for the ultra-Orthodox sector, but for the State of Israel,” said Economy Minister Naftali Bennett. “It proves that dialogue can achieve great results, and that unity with the ultra-Orthodox, who are our brothers, is best for everyone.”
Bennett concluded by stating that “both Torah and the state [of Israel] are important to me. There is no contradiction” in serving both.