The Israeli Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that ultra-Orthodox Jews must do military service like any other Israeli citizen, reviving tensions over a controversial issue which for years has separated lay and religious groups.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews have up until now enjoyed widespread exemptions due to their status of yeshiva students in religious schools. The founding father of Israel, David Ben Gurion invoked this legislation as he considered that these students were guarantors of continuity of legal studies and the Jewish religion. Over the years, the significant ultra-orthodox population has grown, and hundreds of thousands of young people have not done military service, while other members of their age group have been called up.
With a higher birth rate than other sectors of the population, by 2050, the number of births in this group will reach 25%, making the present system of conscription untenable. At present those in military service can be called into service until they reach 40 years of age.
The court’s decision, which requires that the government act within 12 months to obey the ruling, poses a tough choice for the right-wing government as the orthodox community has usually been a key player in deciding which party gets to govern the country.