CBNNews.com - JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak refused to grant military exemptions to 61 new yeshivot (religious seminaries), which applied for Torato omanuto ("Torah is his profession," i.e., studying the Law of Moses).
Barak ordered his advisors to create new criteria to qualify for exemption from the military, which will require more ultra-Orthodox to serve in the army.
"The Defense Ministry will no longer be a rubber stamp and will not approve each and every request to shirk military duty," one official commented.
According to Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Major General Elazar Stern, who heads up the IDF's personnel department, within a decade, ultra-Orthodox exemptions will represent 25 percent of the population.
"Today, out of the population not enlisted in the army, some 11 percent claim that the Torah as their profession [exemption]. We must remember, however, that 25 percent are first grade students in the haredi [ultra-Orthodox] educational systems, and if we fail to intervene in this issue, that's where we'll be in several years," Stern said, who believes that some young men exempted under this law do not really study Torah.
According to statistics on YNetnews.com, since these exemptions began, the number of ultra-Orthodox rejecting military service has gone from 400 to approximately 500,000.
"The IDF's challenges are great and complex," said one security official. "We need a big and strong IDF. Therefore, we must reduce every attempt not to join the army, both in this aspect of "Torato omanuto" and in other aspects," he said.
In an interview on Army Radio Thursday morning, Member of Knesset (MK) Moshe Gafni berated the defense minister's decision.
"The words, 'to put an end to this' are unacceptable to me," Gafni said. "This is beginning to remind me of the civil revolution that he tried to bring about during his reign [as prime minister]," he said.
"He's not solving anything. He's not changing the number of students. He's only making headlines," Gafni told Army Radio.
Following high school graduation, the majority of young Israeli men serve three years of compulsory military service, while women serve two years.
Approximately 1,000 haredi youth attend the 61 new yeshivot that were denied the traditional exemption.
Sources: YNet news service, The Jerusalem Post