Thursday, June 5, 2008

Only 80 yeshiva students opted for national service in past year . . .


. . . and for good reason! It is amazing that 80 opted for national service at all, being that the Knesset decided to pay the national service stipend far below that of either the army or the Yeshivas where these boys study! Remember, too, that most of these young men are married and sometimes have families as well.

Instead of a headline that appears so critical of the Yeshiva students, Ha'aretz should have opted for one that celebrated their achievement. How about, "Despite Lack of Sensible Wages, 80 Yeshiva Students Opt for National Service Anyway."

That headline would have been a bit more honest!

Last update - 11:34 05/06/2008
By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz Correspondent

Only 80 yeshiva students have opted for civilian national service since this option was made available to them in July 2007. Despite this, Labor Party Minister Ami Ayalon, the minister charged with managing civilian national service, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Wednesday that he forecasts the number of civilian service volunteers will increase to 500 a year over the next four years.

Ayalon's report is highly optimistic, as it predicts that by 2012 40 percent of the entire pool of yeshiva students who are eligible to be drafted by the Israel Defense Forces will enlist in civilian national service.

In July 2007 the Knesset extended the Tal Law - which enables any yeshiva student who so desires to continue receiving a draft deferral of five years - despite fierce criticism from the High Court of Justice.

The law allows yeshiva students over age 22 to take one year off from their studies. During this period, they can acquire a profession or work without being drafted. At the end of the year, the students must choose between returning to full-time studies or completing abbreviated national service.

The need to closely monitor the implementation of the Tal Law was raised in Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee sessions prior to the law's extension. In practice, however, no framework for civilian service was established during the law's first five years of operation. A key reason for this was the Finance Ministry's demand that anyone participating in such service be paid a much lower wage than the stipend given to yeshiva students. The proposed wage would not have enabled such students (many of whom are already married by age 22) to support their families, leading the other relevant bodies to deem the plan a nonstarter.

The first monitoring team, headed by MK Tzahi Hanegbi, was only formed Wednesday.

According to Ayalon's report, two thirds of the volunteers chose to complete their national service in a single year, while the rest elected to spread the length of their term over a two-year period.

Last year, yeshiva students who received draft deferrals comprised 11 percent of the entire pool of 18-year-old males eligible to be drafted. By 2020, that rate is expected to reach 25 percent - meaning that one out of every four 18-year-old males will be in yeshiva instead of the army. This makes solving the problem of yeshiva draft deferrals urgent.

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