Orthodox parties threaten to topple government over ‘Rabbis Bill,’ yeshiva deferments

June 20, 2024 by Pesach Benson
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Two Orthodox parties on Wednesday threatened to topple the Israeli government after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu withdrew a controversial “Rabbis Bill” from the Knesset agenda the previous day. The governing coalition is already strained by the contentious legislation to grant deferments to yeshiva students.

Then-Minister of Health, Aryeh Deri during a Tel Aviv press conference, Jan 18, 2023. Photo by Gideon Markowicz/TPS

The “Rabbis Bill” legislation would create hundreds of new rabbinical positions in municipalities. Critics say it creates jobs for people close to the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties and expands the influence of the Chief Rabbinate at the expense of local authorities.

Shas chairman Aryeh Deri reportedly threatened to topple the government if the bill is not passed.

On Wednesday morning, an unidentified Shas figure told Israeli television, “There is no coalition, there is no discipline, and the most frustrating thing is that Likud is a party made up of 35 separate factions.”

The government is also trying to navigate the issue of army deferments for yeshiva students.

A bill being pushed by the government would lower the age at which yeshiva students are exempted from military service from 26 to 21 while gradually raising the rate of conscription from the Orthodox, or Haredi community.

HaModia, an Orthodox newspaper affiliated with United Torah Judaism suggested in an editorial on Wednesday that the party suspend its support for Knesset measures “even at the cost of overthrowing the government.”

Military service is compulsory for all Israeli citizens. However, Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, and the country’s leading rabbis agreed to a status quo that deferred military service for Orthodox men studying in yeshivot, or religious institutions. At the time, no more than several hundred men were studying in yeshivot.

However, the Orthodox community has grown significantly since Israel’s founding. In January 2023, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported that Haredim are Israel’s fastest-growing community and projected it would constitute 16% of the population by the end of the decade. According to the Israel Democracy Institute, the number of yeshiva students exceeded 138,000 in 2021.

That demographic growth has fueled passionate debates about “sharing the burden” of military service, the status of religious study in a Jewish society, and Haredi integration. The debate has intensified as Israel’s war with Hamas approaches its ninth month and the looming prospect of war with Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, the government gave its support to draft legislation raising the exemption age for military reservists. The bill is backed by the Defense Ministry, citing a manpower shortage.


One Response to “Orthodox parties threaten to topple government over ‘Rabbis Bill,’ yeshiva deferments”
  1. Liat Kirby says:

    Let them topple the government. They’d be doing us a favour, as long as the religious parties go with it. To this day we are living with Ben Gurion’s mistake of allowing religion special consideration insofar as the responsibility of all citizens is concerned. It is also a huge mistake to mix religion and politics. There should be no religious parties in the Knesset. Members of the Knesset as individuals who also practise Orthodoxy are fine, but not as parties. .

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