Israeli Supreme Court Cancels Discriminatory Law


Haredim Lose Major Battle

Justice (ret.) Tzvi Tal
Justice (ret.) Tzvi Tal

Yesterday, February 21, 2012, the Supreme Court of Israel annulled the “Tal Law,” with a majority of 6 justices against 3. This law kept most ultra-Orthodox Jews out of the IDF. Dorit Beinisch, the current president of the court supported the decision: “we can help to bring a gradual change,” she said. Asher Dan Grunis, who soon will replace her, opposed the decision. He said that the thought the court will bring Haredim to serve in the IDF is “an illusion.” “It doesn’t help the status of the court, we won’t bring change,” he added. This August, the law would expire and Haredim would be forced to enroll in the IDF. Would street violence follow the court decision?


Sitting in Jerusalem, Israel’s Supreme Court of Justice is an unusual law establishment. Israel’s Supreme Court usually operates as the highest appellate court in the country, but it features also a special operational mode as a court of first instance, called in Hebrew bagatz (acronym for High Court for Justice, not to be confounded with the formal name of the court: The High Court). In this instance, everybody under the jurisdiction of the court can initiate a process against the State of Israel, if he feels one of his rights has been legitimately oppressed by the state. This can happen because Israel lacks a Constitution; thus, the Knesset can legislate laws that anywhere else would be considered illegitimate (for example Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People). In other words, if the Knesset passes the Fatherland Law, a Christian Palestinian with Israeli citizenship may petition the High Court asking for the nullification of the law, since it obviously discriminates against non-Jewish citizens. In other words, the court has the power of a regular high court and a constitutional court combined. That makes Israeli Justices unusually powerful.

Yesterday’s ruling is an example of that. Several lawyers and the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel asked for the nullification of the Tal Law since it discriminated between ultra-Orthodox Jews and secular ones, by giving the first group the choice to enroll in the IDF as per their wishes. Surprisingly, the court accepted their claim. This is surprising because Israel’s High Court is not known for promoting Justice; in fact it regularly nullifies mixed marriages between Israeli Palestinians and those living in territories of the Palestinian authority (which is under the jurisdiction of this court) because … they are mixed (see 1264 New Testimonies).

A few months ago, I claimed in Netanyahu buys Justice, that Israel’s Prime Minister was promoting the illegitimate choice of the abovementioned Asher Dan Grunis as president of the High Court due to coalitional issues. The effort was illegitimate because on the day the serving president leaves office Mr. Grunis will be 41 days short of the legal age limitation for being chosen president of the court. Netanyahu’s successful push to force Grunis’ election is paying off now. Grunis is a descendant of Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Alter, founder of the Gur Hassidic movement. As such, he is the closest existing candidate among the eligible Justices to the right-wing, Pharisaic ideology favored by Netanyahu’s coalition; not only that, he is also Hassidic aristocracy. That’s why he opposed yesterday’s ruling; he is ideologically close to those opposing the enrolling of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the IDF. Once he becomes president of the court he would acquire more power to influence whatever decision would be taken in the following months. He had already declared he doesn’t believe in the court intervention in this case. That means that he would accept whatever decision Netanyahu’s coalition takes. Netanyahu’s government depends on the Haredim, thus a solution keeping the Haredim out of the army is expected.

Haredi Soldiers | Nahal Battalion 97
Haredi Soldiers | Nahal Battalion 97

Tal Law

The Tal Committee was appointed on August 22, 1999 by then Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. It dealt with the special exemption from mandatory military service in the IDF given to ultra-Orthodox Jews (Haredim and Hasidim). It was headed by the retired Justice Tzvi Tal; thus it was named after him.

On July 23, 2002, the Tal Law, based on the committee results, was passed in the Knesset. It enabled the continuation of the IDF service-exempt given to yeshiva members (“yeshiva”-literally “sitting” in Hebrew-is the name of Jewish religious colleges). At the age of 22, yeshiva members would receive a year of decision in which they would need to choose to continue their studies or to go to work. Those who choose to go out of the yeshiva and work would need to choose between a minimalist army service of four months, and then reserve duties according to the army’s needs, or a civilian service of one year. The service would be done in special IDF units organized according to religious needs, like Nahal Battalion 97 (the IDF features several ethnic units, see Explosion in Sinai).

Secular Jews opposed the law because it discriminated against them by being forcing them (by default, because they don’t get a similar exemption) to serve at least three years in the IDF. In 2005, the state already admitted in a response to a bagatz petition, that the Tal Law had failed to change enlistment practices of Orthodox Jews. Back then, only a few dozen ultra-Orthodox Jews enlisted in the army as a result of the law; by the beginning of 2012, the number was still below 900. In 1974, only 2.4% of high school graduates about to enroll in the IDF were exempt because they were yeshiva members. In 1999, they were 9.2%; this percentage is projected to be 15% this year. These numbers are a clear sign of a very benevolent discrimination by the State of Israel towards Haredim and Hasidim. Yet, the same secular Jews who petitioned the High Court on their own behalf, do not oppose other types of discrimination enforced by the IDF towards minorities.

Deciders’ Class

In “Decider of the Generation” is Dying I explained the clockwork of Israeli coalitional governments. Three Haredi parties (Agudat Yisrael, Degel HaTorah, and Shas) are those deciding who Israel’s next Prime Minister would be. The main secular parties never have the majority needed to form a stable government, thus they must get at least one of the Haredi parties as a coalitional partner. The first two parties mentioned in this paragraph aim to become Head of the Knesset’s Finance Committee, while Shas prefers the powerful Ministry of Interior, where it accumulated immense power in the management of civil affairs in Israel. In fact, Haredim run civilian life in Israel. If they don’t wish to serve in the IDF, they won’t. Netanyahu’s words—the words of the secular majority—or human rights principles would have no weight in the decision.

This unholy coalition between secular Zionists and ultra-Orthodox Jews is known as “Messiah’s Donkey” (see “Decider of the Generation” is Dying). Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook was one of the Orthodox Jews who created the base for cooperation between Zionists and Pharisees. He claimed that secular Jews, represented by the Zionists, can take the place of “Messiah Son of Joseph” as a collective entity, creating the base that would allow the Pharisees—the Orthodox Jews—to produce the “Messiah Son of David” in the new and secular state. Netanyahu has been always under the pressure of this group. They are fanatic enough to bring a new war to the Middle East; the Military Rabbinate Plans Third Temple and related events are just a reminder of that. What Netanyahu and all other Israeli leaders fail to see is that this Messiah’s Donkey is not a donkey, but a sterile mule. This August, secular Jews may request to abort the deal.