High Court Halts Funding for Draft Age Yeshivah Students

YERUSHALAYIM -

Israel’s High Court of Justice issued an interim injunction against the state on Tuesday prohibiting it from transferring funds to yeshivos for students of draft age who were not inducted by order of Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon.

A year ago, the High Court ruled 6 to 3 to annul the Tal Law, which allowed for the deferment of army service for yeshivah students classified as “Torasam
um’nasam
.” They declared the law unconstitutional, and ruled that the Knesset could not extend it any further, and that a new law had to be legislated. The law expired in August 2013 and since then, a government committee prepared a draft of a new law, which passed the Knesset in a first reading. The law is now being debated by a parliamentary committee and prepared for second and third readings in the Knesset.

Since then, Yaalon has been granting temporary deferments for cohorts of boys who became of age pending the new law. But the judges, in an 8-1 decision, wrote that Yaalon’s authority to postpone their enlistment was questionable. This followed the court’s expressed dissatisfaction three weeks ago with his decision to put off their enlistment until April 2014.

The government attorneys have asked the High Court to wait until the Knesset has completed its work on a new draft law which would resolve the issue, but the panel of nine justices voted 8 to 1 to halt the funding while an appeal on the matter is pending.

The judges also hinted that if a law is not enacted by March 31 of this year, they may intervene further in the question of the draft issue.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid immediately issued a statement that he will stop stipend payments to those yeshivah students whose draft dates had been delayed.

Chareidi MKs responded sharply to the Court’s intervention: United Torah Judaism MK Rabbi Yaakov Litzman said that “the justices are circumventing the Knesset and imposing their personal view on a matter which is currently under discussion in the Shaked committee. It is very serious that the Court considers itself above the law, and interferes with the lawful postponement of the students’ enlistment by the defense minister.

Bnei Yeshivah will continue to learn, and no threat of sanctions — financial or criminal — will be able to prevent them from doing so, not now and not in the future.”

UTJ MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni said that the “Court has behaved thuggishly. The yeshivah budget is by right and not a favor, nor is it contingent on enlistment or any other condition. Like all other citizens of Israel we are entitled to funding.”

The Shas party said in a statement that “we regret that the High Court judges joined the persecution of the Torah world, while aggressively intervening in a sensitive legislative process that is under discussion in the legislative branch. The Defense Minister is acting with common sense and according to his legal authority, and as such, there is no connection between draft deferments and the yeshivah budgets. The decision to impose financial sanctions is intended solely to join the general hostile atmosphere against the lomdei Torah in Eretz Yisrael.”

UTJ MK Rabbi Yisrael Eichler noted that “the High Court would not suspend funding for any student or university in order to pressure the Knesset. It also wouldn’t dare to force Arabs to enlist for civil service. The chareidi community will learn with mesirus nefesh even if we have to go underground.”

MKs from the Jewish Home Party also criticized the decision, saying that excessive sensitivity is called for. MK Moti Yogev said that “the unwise intervention” of the High Court in this issue “disproportionately harms lomdei Torah compared to draft evaders in universities … and regretfully, shows that the High Court is disconnected from the nation.”

Meanwhile, earlier on Tuesday, the allocation for the yeshivos for the month of February was already transferred. Therefore, this latest High Court ruling will have no effect until March, at the earliest. In the event that a new draft law is approved by the Knesset before that, the Court’s decision will be rendered moot.

In addition, legal experts pointed out that it was unclear which students would be affected by the Court’s decision. It pertains to a cohort of 3,000 to 6,000 students, of whom the IDF would have to determine who is subject to the Court’s ruling. The IDF is the body that has to submit the data to the Education Ministry for any suspension of funding.