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Israel: Amendment Law Imposes Military Draft and National Service Obligations on Yeshiva Students

(Mar. 31, 2014) On March 12, 2014, the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) approved an amendment to the Defense Service Law (Consolidated Version), 5746-1986 [hereinafter the DS Law]. (DS Law, 40 LAWS OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL [LSI] 112 (5746-1985/86), as amended; DS (Amendment No. 19) Law 5774-2014 [hereinafter the DSAL] [in Hebrew] Knesset website [scroll down to appropriate link]; see also Ruth Levush, Israel: New Law on National Civilian Service Obligations for Yeshiva Students, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Mar. 31, 2014), //

Under the DS Law, every Israeli citizen or permanent resident aged 18 to 40 is subject to the military draft. The upper age limit is 45 for officers, and other age limits apply to persons in designated occupations. (DS Law §§ 1 & 36A.) Yeshiva (Jewish ultra-orthodox religious schools) students have traditionally been exempted from implementation of the draft duty. (See Ruth Levush, Israel: Supreme Court Decision Invalidating the Law on Haredi Military Draft Postponement (Mar. 2012), Law Library of Congress website.)

Draft for Yeshiva Students Implemented in Two Steps

The main changes introduced by the DSAL relate to the military draft for yeshiva students. The amendment regulates the gradual integration of yeshiva students into either the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) or the National Civilian Service, in two steps.

The first step will be implemented from March 20, 2014, to June 30, 2017, a period that the DS Law defines as “an adjustment period.” During this time frame, the Minister of Defense may approve requests to delay the draft for individual yeshiva students aged 18-24. The Minister will approve such requests in consideration of military needs, yearly draft quota objectives as determined by the government, and the requester’s individual circumstances. (DSAL, adding §§ 26E, 26O & 26P to the DS Law.)

After the expiration of the adjustment period, a yeshiva student may be drafted for military service, placed in a program run by the National Civilian Service, or fully exempted from service upon reaching the age of 24. (Id., adding §§ 26E(e)-26G). The DSAL authorizes the transfer of information on students receiving full draft exemptions to authorized personnel at the Ministry of the Economy, so that they can be contacted by the Ministry regarding employment opportunities and training. (Id., adding §§ 26L & 26M.)

During implementation of the second step, defined by the DSAL as the “permanent period,” which will commence on July 1, 2017, the Minister of Defense is authorized to approve yeshiva students’ draft delay requests until they reach the age of 26. A decision regarding draft delays will be made in consideration of whether the yearly draft quota, as determined by the government, has been met. (Id., adding §§ 26Q-26U.) When the yearly quota goal has not been met, the DSAL generally requires the drafting to either military or national-civilian service of all yeshiva students over the age of 21, excluding 1,800 “committed students” per year. (Id. § 26V(d).) The identification of the “committed students” will be made by the Minister of Defense in consideration of a list of students proposed by the Committee of Yeshivas in Israel, if such a list has been proposed. (Id. § 26V(e).) The Minister of Defense is further authorized by special decree to fully exempt from the draft “committed students” who have reached the age of 26. (Id. § 26V(f).)

While requiring the IDF to apply measures to enable yeshiva students who are conscripted to preserve their lifestyle, the DSAL specifically prohibits harming the status and integration of female soldiers in military service. (Id. § 26T E.-F.)

Additional Changes in Provisions for All Draftees

The DSAL further shortens the military draft periods of male recruits starting from July 1, 2015, to: 32 months for recruits at ages 18-26; 26 months for recruits at ages 27-29, as well as for physicians or dentists at age 30-34; 20 months for those immigrating to Israel after age 27; and 14 months for physicians or dentists drafted at ages 35-38. (Id. amending § 15.) While shortening the military draft period for male recruits, the DSLA generally increases the draft period for female recruits aged 18 to 26, and female physicians or dentists aged 27 to 34, to 28 months, instead of the previously applicable 24-month period. (Id. amending § 16(1).)

The DS Law emphasizes that females and males must be provided with equal opportunities in the military service. (DS Law, § 16A.) The DSLA authorizes the Minister of Defense, with the approval of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Knesset Committee, to determine uniform procedures for the evaluation and placement of both male and female conscripts in roles and professions in the military service that will guarantee equal opportunities. (DSAL, adding § 16A(d).)