from From the Potomac to the Euphrates and Middle East Program

Why No Israeli Government Will Ever Impose Mandatory IDF Service on the Ultra-Orthodox

January 22, 2013

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This article was originally published on Saturday, January 19, 2013, on

Washington – Last week the Israeli media reported that Shas spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, suffered a minor stroke. Although his doctors were mum on what might have caused the episode, sources close to Yosef indicated that a contributing factor was the rabbi’s fear of a renewed push among secular Israelis for yeshiva students to be drafted into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) after the January 22 election.  Yosef is so consumed with this issue that five days before he was hospitalized, the rabbi suggested that Haredim youth emigrate rather than serve in the military.  It seems that Rabbi Yosef’s concerns are real and quite clearly run deep, but he should not worry so much.  It is unlikely that Israel’s budding Talmudic scholars will be picking up Galil rifles anytime soon.

Although compulsory military service for yeshiva students is popular among Israelis and thus a good issue for secular politicians, Shas and other Orthodox parties will continue to get their way on conscription and a variety of other issues. That is the way it has been and likely the way it will continue to be.  A good part of the explanation for this has to do with Israel’s electoral system, which can best be described as “disproportionate representation,” but there is something else going on that is at the heart of the Zionist project that gives the Haredim and other prominent religious voices far more sway than most Israelis prefer.

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