Knesset Enacts Tal Law
Protests against the Tal Law in Jerusalem. Photo: Jerusalem Post

July 23, 2002

The Knesset votes 51-41 to approve the Tal Law, an effort to address the growing problem of Haredi Jews receiving exemptions from military service. The law, which expires after five years, allows yeshiva students to defer military service until age 22, when they must decide whether to take a year of vocational training followed by 16 months of military service or to perform a year of civilian national service. The law also calls for an expansion of the Israel Defense Forces’ Orthodox units, including Nahal.

The legislation is based on the work of the Tal Committee, which Prime Minister Ehud Barak formed under the chairmanship of Tzvi Tal in 1999. The Supreme Court had ruled that the defense minister did not have the authority to exempt Haredim from military service, a practice based on David Ben-Gurion’s pre-state “Status Quo” agreement with the ultra-Orthodox community but never legislated. The Haredi community was small enough in the late 1940s that the exemption had no substantial effect on IDF recruiting, but by 1999 more than 30,000 yeshiva students a year were avoiding military service. Tensions rose between the Haredim and the rest of Israeli society as a result.

Despite failing to boost Haredi enlistment and being criticized by the Supreme Court, the law wins a five-year Knesset extension in 2007. Under President Dorit Beinisch, the Supreme Court rules the law unconstitutional in 2012. The problem of Haredi military service remains unresolved. It is the core issue that topples Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government at the end of 2018, leading to three Knesset elections in a year.