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Israeli Supreme Court eliminates exemption from military service for ultra-Orthodox

This is a historic decision, as Haredi Jews have always been mostly exempt from the armed forces since the founding of the State of Israel.

IDF forces in Gaza(CORDON PRESS)

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Israel's Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the elimination of the exemption for ultra-Orthodox Jews from compulsory military service. Since its founding as a state in 1947, Haredi Jews have only participated in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on a residual basis. For this reason, the court's decision represents a historic change in Israeli society.

The exemption from military service for the ultra-Orthodox was given for religious reasons. Haredi Jews follow an interpretation of the Torah by which they cannot join the armed forces

The participation of the ultra-Orthodox in a generalized manner was the center of an intense debate in the Knesset and within the coalition government led by Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party. Until now, there were only a handful of non-mixed and religious units in the IDF, which are made up exclusively of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men.

The timing of this fundamental change is important. Israel will soon have been at war in the Gaza Strip for a year. The government had planned to extend the duration of compulsory military service in order to continue to have the human capital required for its operation in the strip. However, this reform was not completed. Now, the arrival of the ultra-Orthodox in the IDF will serve to maintain the pace that the Netanyahu government intends to bring to its military operations.

Despite being in talks to reach a ceasefire with the Hamas terrorist group, Netanyahu's government has repeated on several occasions that a hypothetical truce and hostage agreement will not stop its operations in Gaza. According to the government, the ultimate objective is the destruction of the Hamas terrorist group.

Added to the Gaza front, Israel maintains high alert on its northern border, which it shares with Lebanon. Since the start of the war in Gaza, the Shiite Islamist group Hezbollah has launched rocket attacks, forcing authorities to evacuate the region. Since then, there have been about 70,000 people who have been displaced and are waiting to return to their homes in the north. The situation does not seem, however, to be de-escalating as the months of the war progressed. In June, Hezbollah launched its largest combined rocket and drone attack against Israel following the death of one of its commanders in an IDF attack on southern Lebanon.

Training Haredi Jews for war

The new measure could take time to bear fruit. The IDF has to carry out a recruitment process for the ultra-Orthodox youth that could be more complex than with the secular or religious population. After this, new recruits have to go through a minimal and mandatory training phase lasting several months. Some data provided during the debate surrounding the elimination of the exemption further pointed to the difficulty of training the ultra-Orthodox in military doctrine and discipline.

In June, Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset Member Sharon Nir stressed that of the more than 4,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews who had volunteered for the IDF after the Oct. 7 attacks, 3,300 applications were rejected.

According to Nir, applicants aged between 26 and the age of 50 attempted to volunteer through the so-called Shlav Bet track, in which seniors receive two weeks of basic training before being sent to serve in non-combat roles.

"The IDF, which is hungry for manpower, seriously examined the numbers and found that only 1,300 of them were relevant for Shlav Bet," she said. "The rest were found to be unsuitable," with many suffering from physical and psychological problems that prevented their enlistment.