Israel’s top court orders government to draft ultra-Orthodox Jews, in blow to Netanyahu

Israel’s top court orders government to draft ultra-Orthodox Jews, in blow to Netanyahu

Israel’s Supreme Court Ruling: Compulsory Military Service for Ultra-Orthodox Jews – A Blow to Netanyahu’s Government


The long-standing controversy over compulsory military service for Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel reached a significant milestone on February 27, 202The Israeli Supreme Court handed down a landmark ruling that mandated the enlistment of these Jewish sect members into the military or national service, marking a major shift in Israeli society and politics.

The Court Decision

In an 8-to-1 majority decision, the justices upheld a petition filed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) against the Israeli Ministry of Defense and the Ultra-Orthodox community. The ruling came after years of deliberation and several previous attempts to pass a law mandating military service for Ultra-Orthodox men, which were thwarted by political opposition.

Impact on Netanyahu’s Government

The court decision was a significant blow to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose coalition government is heavily reliant on the support of Ultra-Orthodox political parties. The ruling not only placed additional strain on his already fragile coalition but also ignited widespread protests from the Ultra-Orthodox community and their political allies.

Political Repercussions

The ruling further complicated Netanyahu’s efforts to form a new government following the March 2023 Israeli parliamentary elections, where his Likud Party lost seats to parties representing the Ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities. As a result, Netanyahu faced increased pressure to accommodate their demands, which could potentially lead to further concessions that may weaken his governing stance on key issues.

Public Opinion

The Israeli public opinion was divided on the issue, with some advocating for equality and others expressing concern over the implications of the ruling on the Ultra-Orthodox community. Supporters argued that mandatory military service was essential to ensure equality, while critics feared that it could disrupt their traditional way of life and exacerbate already-high poverty rates within the community.

Future Implications

The Israeli Supreme Court ruling represents a pivotal moment in the ongoing struggle for equality and religious freedoms within Israeli society. The implications of this decision extend beyond military service, potentially influencing education, employment, and broader social issues that have long divided Israel’s diverse population.

Israel’s top court orders government to draft ultra-Orthodox Jews, in blow to Netanyahu

I. Introduction

Brief overview of the Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) community in Israel:

The Ultra-Orthodox, also known as Haredi Jews, constitute a significant and influential segment of Israeli society. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, they accounted for approximately 10% of Israel’s Jewish population in 2019. The community is characterized by a unique set of beliefs, practices, and social structures that differ markedly from those of the majority of Israeli Jews and other Jewish communities around the world. Haredi Jews place great emphasis on traditional Torah study and observance of Jewish law, with men often dedicating their lives to intensive learning in yeshivas (religious academies) and women focusing on raising children and maintaining the home.


Despite their smaller numbers, Haredi Jews have a higher birth rate than other Jewish and Israeli demographics, leading to significant population growth. They live predominantly in large, densely populated neighborhoods in major cities such as Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, and Kiryat Sefer. Their distinct social structure, with separate schools, neighborhoods, and institutions, helps ensure their continued growth and maintenance of traditional practices.

The controversy over Ultra-Orthodox Jews’ exemption from military service:

One of the most contentious issues surrounding the Ultra-Orthodox community in Israel is their longstanding exemption from mandatory military service. This practice, which was established in the early years of the State of Israel, has been a source of ongoing debate and controversy.

Historical background:

The origins of the exemption can be traced back to the 1920s, when the British Mandatory authorities allowed Orthodox Jews to be exempt from military service due to their religious observances. After Israel’s independence in 1948, the new government continued this policy as a compromise to maintain peace within the Jewish community and ensure the support of Haredi leaders.

Criticisms and arguments for change:

However, over the years, criticism of this exemption has grown from various quarters. Some argue that it undermines the principle of national service and creates a sense of disproportionate burden on other Israeli Jews, who must bear the military’s responsibilities. Others point to the financial cost to the state, as Haredi men who study in yeshivas receive government stipends rather than contributing taxes and military service. The controversy has also sparked debates about religious freedom, equality, and the role of the state in shaping the religious landscape of Israeli society. Despite these criticisms, the Ultra-Orthodox community has consistently opposed any attempts to change the status quo. The ongoing debate highlights the complex and evolving nature of religious identity, social norms, and state policy in Israel.

Israel’s top court orders government to draft ultra-Orthodox Jews, in blow to Netanyahu

The Legal Battle: Background of the Court Case

The issue of mandatory military service for Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel has been a contentious and protracted legal battle. Petitioners, primarily the Israeli organization “Shas” representing Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, have been advocating for a change in the law to grant exemptions from compulsory military service based on religious grounds. They argue that Ultra-Orthodox Jews should be excused from serving in the military due to their unique lifestyle and religious obligations, such as intensive Torah study and prayer.

Petitioners and their demands

The Ultra-Orthodox Jews, also known as Haredim, make up around 10% of Israel’s population and have long been exempted from military service based on their religious beliefs. However, in recent years there has been growing pressure to change this policy as the Ultra-Orthodox community becomes increasingly larger and visible within Israeli society. The petitioners believe that it is essential for their community’s religious identity to continue to be exempted from military service. They argue that the current system, which allows Ultra-Orthodox men to study Torah instead of serving in the military, is crucial for maintaining their community’s unique character.

The Israeli government’s stance and opposition to change

The Israeli government, however, has been resistant to changing the current policy. The reasons for keeping the exemption are multifaceted. One reason is that there are significant political considerations at play, with the Ultra-Orthodox community being a key voting bloc for several Israeli political parties. Additionally, some argue that allowing Ultra-Orthodox Jews to be exempt from military service could set a dangerous precedent and potentially lead to other religious or ethnic groups seeking similar exemptions. Furthermore, the Israeli military is a critical institution in Israeli society, shaping its citizens’ values and promoting national unity. Some argue that allowing Ultra-Orthodox Jews to be exempt from military service could weaken this sense of unity and potentially lead to social fragmentation.

Reasons for keeping the exemption

The Israeli government argues that allowing mandatory military service for Ultra-Orthodox Jews could have serious consequences for the community. For example, it might disrupt their religious lifestyle, potentially leading to a loss of faith or even a decline in population growth due to the financial burden of supporting families without the income that would come from military service. Furthermore, Ultra-Orthodox Jews could face discrimination and social exclusion if they are required to serve in the military alongside other Israelis, who might not fully understand or appreciate their religious practices.

Political considerations

Political considerations are a significant factor in the Israeli government’s stance on this issue. The Ultra-Orthodox community is a powerful political force, with several parties representing their interests and influencing policy decisions. These parties have used their influence to maintain the exemption, arguing that it is essential for their community’s survival and religious identity. Additionally, some argue that mandatory military service for Ultra-Orthodox Jews could lead to social unrest and political instability within Israeli society.

The legal battle continues

The debate over mandatory military service for Ultra-Orthodox Jews is ongoing, with the issue having been taken to Israel’s Supreme Court several times. The legal battle highlights the complex interplay between religious freedom, national identity, and political considerations in Israeli society. As the Ultra-Orthodox community grows larger and more visible within Israeli society, it is likely that this issue will continue to be a contentious and pressing matter for many years to come.

Israel’s top court orders government to draft ultra-Orthodox Jews, in blow to Netanyahu

I Israel’s Supreme Court Ruling (January 2021)

The ruling in detail

The court’s decision to require Ultra-Orthodox draft: On January 12, 2021, Israel’s Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling mandating that the Ultra-Orthodox community, also known as Haredim, must enlist in the Israeli military or face fines and imprisonment. This decision was the culmination of a long-standing debate over the Ultra-Orthodox community’s exemption from compulsory military service. The court, presided by President Esther Hayut and Justices Yitzhak Amit, Yael Willner, and Anat Baron, ruled that the existing exemptions were discriminatory and contradictory to Israel’s Basic Laws, which guarantee equal rights and opportunities for all citizens.

a. Explanation of the verdict: The court emphasized that the state’s interest in maintaining a strong military and ensuring equal rights outweighed the Ultra-Orthodox community’s religious concerns. The justices also stated that, despite the challenges in implementing this decision, it was essential for maintaining a democratic and egalitarian society. This ruling applied to both men and women within the Ultra-Orthodox community.

b. Implications for Ultra-Orthodox community: The implications of this ruling are significant for the Ultra-Orthodox community, which has historically relied on military exemptions to focus on religious studies. The ruling could lead to a shift in societal norms and may encourage further integration of the Ultra-Orthodox community into the broader Israeli society. However, it might also result in resistance from some segments of the community and could potentially fuel tensions.

The government’s response and next steps: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his disappointment with the ruling, stating that he would explore ways to mitigate its impact on the Ultra-Orthodox community. Potential courses of action for the government include proposing legislative amendments, providing economic incentives to encourage enlistment, or negotiating compromise arrangements with Ultra-Orthodox leaders.

Reactions and implications

Within Israel:

a. Political reactions:

The ruling sparked heated political debates, with some politicians expressing concern over the potential societal unrest and arguing that this was an issue best resolved through negotiations rather than a court order. Others hailed the decision as a long-overdue step towards equality and democracy.

b. Social reactions:

The ruling generated intense social media discussions, with some expressing support for the court’s decision and others opposing it. The Ultra-Orthodox community expressed their apprehension over the implications of the ruling on their religious practices and societal roles.

c. Religious reactions:

Religious leaders within the Ultra-Orthodox community reacted with criticism, stating that this was an attack on their religious freedom. Some rabbis even called for protests and civil disobedience in response to the ruling.

International reactions:

The international community reacted with interest to this ruling, with some observers viewing it as an important step towards ensuring equality and religious freedom. Others expressed concerns over the potential for societal unrest and the implications of this decision on Israel’s relations with its Ultra-Orthodox community.

Israel’s top court orders government to draft ultra-Orthodox Jews, in blow to Netanyahu

Consequences of the Ruling

The Supreme Court’s ruling to mandatory conscription for the Ultra-Orthodox community has significant short-term and long-term implications for Israel’s military, society, and the Ultra-Orthodox community.

Short-term consequences

Impact on Ultra-Orthodox community

The immediate impact of the ruling is felt most acutely by the Ultra-Orthodox community. With the new conscription law, young men will be required to serve in the military or face financial penalties. This could lead to protests and resistance from some sectors of this community. However, others may embrace the change as an opportunity to integrate more fully into Israeli society.

Effects on Israeli politics and society

The implementation of the new law could also impact Israeli politics and society. The coalition government, which includes Ultra-Orthodox parties, might face instability as a result of this ruling. Additionally, Israeli society could experience a broader conversation about military service and national identity, especially regarding the Ultra-Orthodox community’s role in these discussions.

Long-term implications

Potential changes in military culture and structure

In the long term, this ruling may bring about significant changes to Israel’s military culture and structure. With Ultra-Orthodox recruits joining the ranks, the military could see a more diverse range of perspectives and practices. This might lead to accommodations for religious sensitivities and adjustments to training and education programs.

Socio-economic and political consequences for the Ultra-Orthodox community

The socio-economic and political implications for the Ultra-Orthodox community could be far-reaching. With greater participation in the workforce, the community may experience reduced poverty and increased socio-economic mobility. This could lead to positive political changes as well, such as a greater representation of Ultra-Orthodox voices in Israeli politics and policymaking.

Possible shifts in Israeli politics and policymaking

The ruling could also lead to shifts in Israeli politics and policymaking, as the government and society grapple with the challenges and opportunities presented by the integration of Ultra-Orthodox recruits into the military and broader Israeli society. This could result in new initiatives aimed at addressing socio-economic disparities, promoting greater religious tolerance, and fostering a more inclusive national identity.

Israel’s top court orders government to draft ultra-Orthodox Jews, in blow to Netanyahu


The ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court on mandatory military service for Ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, while significant, carries both advantages and disadvantages for Israel. Advantages include the potential to increase national unity, strengthen the military, and reduce economic burden on the state caused by the prolonged yeshiva studies. However, there are also potential disadvantages. These include the possibility of widening the divide between Ultra-Orthodox and secular communities, and potential unrest within the religious community.

Assessment of the court’s ruling and its significance for Israel

The Israeli Supreme Court’s ruling on mandatory military service for Ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students represents a major shift in Israeli society and politics. This decision, the first of its kind, signals a renewed emphasis on national unity and the importance of shared civic responsibilities among all citizens. By requiring Ultra-Orthodox students to serve in the military or perform alternative civilian service, the court aims to ensure that Israel’s diverse population contributes equally to the nation.

Advantages and disadvantages

The advantages of this ruling are numerous. Mandatory military service will bring Ultra-Orthodox youth into the mainstream of Israeli society, providing them with valuable skills and experiences that can contribute to their future career prospects. Furthermore, it will strengthen Israel’s military by increasing the pool of potential recruits, thereby ensuring its continued effectiveness. The financial burden on the state caused by prolonged yeshiva studies will also be reduced.

Despite these benefits, there are potential disadvantages. The ruling may lead to further polarization between Ultra-Orthodox and secular communities, potentially leading to social unrest. Additionally, the Ultra-Orthodox community may resist the ruling, resulting in protests or civil disobedience.

Future prospects and challenges

As Israel moves forward with the implementation of this ruling, it is essential to address potential solutions for addressing the issue of Ultra-Orthodox military service. One possible solution could involve extending the duration of yeshiva studies or providing incentives for religious students to pursue alternative forms of education or work.

Moreover, it is crucial for dialogue, cooperation, and compromise between different sectors in Israeli society to continue. This includes ongoing conversations between religious and secular leaders, as well as efforts to find common ground on issues of shared importance to all Israelis. Only through open dialogue and a commitment to understanding one another can the challenges presented by this ruling be effectively addressed, ultimately ensuring that Israel remains a strong, cohesive society.