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Israeli top court annuls law exempting ultra-Orthodox Jews from military service

Israel's Supreme Court has ruled that a law exempting ultra-Orthodox Jews from military service is unconstitutional. The ruling may raise tensions between secular and religious Jews.

Israel Ultra-Orthodox Yeshiva Student Soldatin (Getty Images/U. Sinai)

Israel's Supreme Court on Tuesday annulled a 2015 law exempting ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students from military conscription.

The ruling threatened to increase tensions between religious and secular Jews and could undermine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing coalition, which relies on ultra-Orthodox political parties for support.

The judges ruled 8-1 that exempting ultra-Orthodox seminary students was discriminatory and unconstitutional.

The court provided the government with one year to address the issue.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews have for decades evaded compulsory military service, which is required for Jewish men and women when they turn 18. Many are called up to the army for periodic service up until age 40.

Israel Ultra-Orthodox Battalion Netzah Yehuda (Getty Images/AFP/M.Kahana)

Some seminary students have joined the military in special ultra-Orthodox units.

Ultra-Orthodox defiant

The ultra-Orthodox argue seminary students must focus on preserving Jewish religion. They are also against ultra-Orthodox men coming into contact with women and secular Jews who may tempt them away from the Torah. 

Read: Israel freezes plan for mixed-sex prayer at Western Wall 

Previous attempts to conscript ultra-Orthodox have led to violence and protests.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews make up about 10 percent of Israel's population, but given high birth rates of about seven children per woman they are estimated to reach 29 percent of the population by 2050, according to a government report. 

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party accused the Supreme Court of being disconnected from the Jewish people, adding that the decision was "completely detached from our heritage and tradition and from the people."

Watch video 05:27

Being gay in an ultra-Orthodox community

Conscription for everybody

In 2014, Israel's government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then in a coalition with Yair Lapid's secular Yesh Atid party, passed a law that reduced ultra-Orthodox exemptions. But when Lapid went into the opposition, Netanyahu and his new right-wing government backed by religious parties canceled those reforms.

The Supreme Court had ruled on those 2015 reforms.

Lapid praised the top court's decision, saying it enforced equality. "This is why we have come to politics. Conscription for everybody, work for everybody. Benjamin Netanyahu can no longer continue to wriggle out all the time. Military conscription is for everybody, not only for the suckers who don't have a party in his coalition," Lapid said.

Watch video 04:32

Breaking free of ultra-orthodox communities

cw/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)

 

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