Torah, War, Politics, and the Supreme Court: The 2024 Military Service of Ultra-Orthodox Yeshiva Students Bill

Moshe Jaffe is a constitutional law adjunct professor at the Academic Center of Law and Science in Israel and an adjunct professor at Cardozo School of Law. He is also a SJD candidate at the University of Michigan Law School.


The tragic events of 7 October and the subsequent war in Gaza have reignited longstanding tension in Israel regarding the draft of Ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students. This issue has been impacted as well by recent rulings of the Israeli Supreme Court, which have brought the matter back into public debate. This post aims to simplify this extremely complex issue and guide the reader through developments leading to the recent bill currently being considered by the Knesset. Given the brevity of this post, its focus is on recent developments and specifically on the 2024 bill rather than a comprehensive historical review.


On 21 February 2012, the Supreme Court struck down the “Tal Law,”[1] which allowed yeshiva students to receive exemptions from serving in the Israeli Defense Forces, on the grounds that it disproportionately violated the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. Following this ruling, several Ministerial and Knesset committees (e.g., the Perry and Shaked Committees) were convened to propose constitutional and proportionate alternatives for addressing the military service of yeshiva students.

In 2014 and 2015, the Knesset made another attempt to resolve the issue (see Amendments 19 and 20 of the Security Service Law [combined version], 1986-5746), but in September 2017, the Supreme Court once again invalidated the amendment, stating that the new law disproportionately infringed on the right to equality and was therefore unconstitutional.

Contrary to popular belief that Ultra-Orthodox parties promote these conscription laws to prevent yeshiva students from being drafted, some amendments and legislative attempts that allowed yeshiva students to continue learning without serving in the army were actually promoted by left-wing and secular parties. For example, the liberal Yesh Atid party was among the parties that promoted and voted for Amendment 19, which stipulates in part that if yeshiva meets recruitment quotas (the number of yeshiva students who must be drafted in a certain year), other yeshiva students will be able to continue receiving exemptions from the army and enter the labor market.

The current 2024 bill, initially introduced to the Knesset by MK Benny Gantz and the Bennett-Lapid government, has resurfaced in the wake of the Gaza conflict and the expiration of legal provisions allowing yeshiva students to be exempted from military service. Additionally, on 25 June 2024, the Supreme Court issued its ruling on the matter of drafting yeshiva students. The Court stated that, due to a lack of legal authority, the government is not permitted to exempt yeshiva students from military service. Furthermore, the Court ruled that the government should cease funding yeshivas whose students do not enlist.

Key Provisions of the Bill

The purpose of the bill, as defined in Article 26(b), is to “reduce the inequality in recruiting for regular service, including through the integration of members of the Ultra-Orthodox public into national-civil service, and to promote their integration into the employment market and their contribution to the state economy, all while recognizing the importance of Torah study.” According to the bill, to qualify for an exemption, a yeshiva student must study in a yeshiva for 45 hours per week and not be employed, as well as meet other criteria.[2]

In addition to setting the criteria for exemption, the bill establishes several other key elements:

  1. Alternatives to Conscription: Introducing national-civil service options instead of military service for yeshiva students.
  2. Lowering the Exemption Age: Allowing entry of younger yeshiva students into the labor market by lowering the age at which work permits can be obtained.
  3. Minimum Conscription Quotas: Defining quotas that must be met. For example, in 2026, 2365 yeshiva students are required to enlist in military service and 842 in national-civil service.[3]
  4. Financial Sanctions: Imposing penalties (fines) on yeshivas that fail to meet recruitment quotas.


On one hand, the legislation fundamentally mandates the conscription of Ultra-Orthodox individuals, incorporating elements that Ultra-Orthodox parties have opposed for years, such as sanctions and recruitment quotas. These measures have long been a point of contention, reflecting the deep-seated religiously motivated resistance within the Ultra-Orthodox community to mandatory military service.

On the other hand, the bill facilitates faster integration of yeshiva students into the labor market, which benefits the overall economy and helps their families achieve a dignified standard of living. The law also offers alternatives to military service, such as volunteering with nonprofit organizations like United Hatzalah. This approach aims to foster a sense of shared responsibility, especially at this time of war.

Furthermore, it is important to highlight that the bill acknowledges the significance of both equal burden-sharing and Torah study. This recognition marks a crucial first step toward bridging the gap between different segments of Israeli society and fostering mutual respect and understanding.

On a personal note, I believe this issue can be resolved with goodwill and by neutralizing cynical political considerations. The current proposal, initially put forward by the previous government and now criticized by its former members as controversial, had previously faced significant opposition from the current government, which paradoxically now promotes it. An interesting example to illustrate this point can be found in the following dialogue in the Knesset over the new bill:

Moshe Tur-Paz (liberal centrist party “Yesh Atid”):

How are you bringing a continuity bill today that ultimately continues to establish the exemption from the army? A bad exemption law—a law that, according to the quotas it contains, will not recruit even one more Ultra-Orthodox person than today. After all, my kippah, Bezalel, and yours too, is a kippah of religious Zionism.

Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich (right-wing party “Religious Zionism”):

Isn’t this the law you voted for in the previous term, and I was against it?

Moshe Tur-Paz:


Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich:

So stop being cynical; come on.

This inconsistency on both sides of the Israeli political spectrum raises concerns that political considerations are driving the discourse rather than a genuine desire to resolve the issue. It is essential to prioritize sincere efforts to bring this saga to a solution, setting aside partisan politics for the greater good.


[1] Law on Deferring Service for Yeshiva Students Whose Torah Is Their Art, 2002-5762.

[2] There are several exceptions from this rule, but I will not address them in this post.

[3] For the full number of yearly quotas, see page 541 at