Numerous high-profile elected officials assembled at the Institute to offer new solutions to the law, and to evaluate the various concerns associated with past and current proposals. MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), who chairs the current coalition, spoke about the dangers of coercing all Chareidim to enter the armed forces, and cautioned against the foolish attempt to try to forge legislation amenable to the competing religious sectors of Israeli society.
“We can reach an agreement between the two sides, which is hard to imagine happening; we can institute a completely coercive solution on the [Chareidi] community; or we can institute a more softer form of coercion, which the leadership of this sector will not really want to follow but will nevertheless not result in total societal upheaval,” Elkin explained.
He continued to say that if Israel decided to act authoritatively to coerce all Chareidim to enter the military, all hell would break loose, and the move would ultimately prove more detrimental than helpful to Israel’s security.
“… We will simply be going backwards for a long period of time, and I’m not sure in the long term it will be possible to achieve long-term achievements if we do this,” Elkin said.
The Likud official disclaimed his opinions as his own and not those of his party, and proceeded to say that he considered targeted recruitment of Chareidim to the armed forces—through the enforcement of quotas—the only plausible alternative to the Tal Law.
But opponents of the Tal Law find such a proposal distasteful, since the net result is to give the Chareidim a break when it comes to military obligations, albeit in a more mitigated format than the Tal Law would have it.
Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias (Shas), also present at Sunday’s gathering, spoke more loftily of his religious brethren, saying any coercive activity by the state would only lead to turmoil within and without Israel’s ultra-Orthodox communities.
“Bring about these changes through embracing [the Chareidi community],” Attias begged. “Don’t lecture us about poverty; we’re the ones suffering from it. For the sake of God, these changes need to be brought about without spiritual wars, without religious wars.”
The Shas official proposed civilian service programs to balance the national obligations among the Chareidim and the rest of Israeli society. He explained that the creation of IDF units exclusively for ultra-Orthodox men or women was not palatable to the IDF or the public at large. Civilians service programs, Attias said, would help realize the ultimate governmental goal of introducing greater numbers of Chareidim to the Israeli workforce.
The roundtable discussion reflected the recent struggles among elected officials to find a suitable alternative to the Tal Law, which was struck down by Israel’s High Court in February. Israeli leaders are looking to shape a legislative proposal of appeal to both the secular and ultra-Orthodox segments of Israeli society, to replace the former edict that granted military exemptions to yeshiva students in Israel. A subject of increasing tension between the religious and irreligious sectors of Israeli society for years, many hope the renewed talks regarding Chareidi exemptions in the wake of the Tal Law’s demise will help usher in an era of equality and tighter relationships between the Chareidim and Chilonim, as the secular sector is commonly referred to in Israeli parlance.
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