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UTJ Bill Would Make Torah Study ‘Core State Value,’ Enshrine Draft Exemptions

(JNS) The United Torah Judaism Party on Tuesday, July 25 proposed the passage of a quasi-constitutional Basic Law that would define Torah study as a “core state value,” in a bid to effectively place on par the religious practice with military service and thus codify in perpetuity exemptions for haredim from the IDF.

“The State of Israel as a Jewish state views the encouragement of Torah study and Torah students to be of utmost importance, and regarding their rights and duties, those who dedicate themselves to studying Torah for an extended period should be viewed as having served a significant service to the State of Israel and the Jewish people,” reads the bill. “Torah study is a fundamental principle in the heritage of the Jewish people.”

The legislation was immediately denounced by members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party, with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant describing military service as the “highest civic duty.”

“Torah study is an important element in keeping our embers alive as a people and I have an appreciation for those who study,” he said, but qualified: “It is important to remember that there is no room for comparison between serving in the IDF and studying Torah. Defending the state in the framework of service in the IDF is a supreme value.

“We will continue to ensure that those who give more [to the nation] will receive more,” added Gallant.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli of Likud wrote that “placing this bill before the Knesset is a harmful travesty at an unfortunate time, and the comparison to service in the army is not fitting or appropriate.”

Members of the opposition also blasted the proposed legislation, with opposition leader Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) writing that “a day after the cancellation of the reasonableness test, the most reckless coalition in the history of the country begins to party at our expense.”

Lapid added that the “destructive government, which has not stopped shouting about ‘refusal,’ submits the ‘refusal and evasion law’ and even dares to call it the ‘fundamental Torah study law.’”

There also appeared to be an internal dispute among the religious factions of the coalition as to the timing of the proposed legislation.

UTJ lawmaker Moshe Gafni said on Tuesday at a Finance Committee meeting that “the timing is entirely unnecessary, it’s wrong, whoever submitted it.” A spokesperson for Shas said that the party was “stunned by the submission of the Basic Law: Torah Study, which was made without our knowledge and despite our wishes.”

One of the bill‘s aims is to prevent the Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, from striking down a proposed law that would regulate the drafting of haredi men into the army and exempt the vast majority from service.

Legislation being drafted would lower the age until which ultra-Orthodox, or haredi, Jewish men who do not serve in the IDF need to receive draft deferments and significantly increase the pay of combat soldiers. The initiative would also reduce the length of time soldiers in positions deemed less essential need to serve.

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