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Bid to Draft Seminarians in Israel Fails

Army: Parliament rejects proposals to conscript ultra-Orthodox students.

July 11, 1998|Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Bills to draft ultra-Orthodox seminary students into Israel's army were defeated in parliament this week, but stirred new debate about the role of religion in Israel and the deepening rift between secular and observant Jews.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government depends on the support of two ultra-Orthodox parties, opposed the conscription bills, including one introduced by opposition leader Ehud Barak, a former armed forces chief of staff.

Netanyahu and the religious parties won rare backing from Arab opposition legislators, who apparently feared the legislation would set a precedent for drafting Israel's Arab citizens as well, if not into the army, then into some form of national service.

Barak's bill was defeated 53-45, and a similar proposal by the opposition Meretz Party lost, 53-41.

A leading ultra-Orthodox rabbi, Eliezer Shach, had urged his supporters to "lay down their lives" rather than submit to a draft.

The ultra-Orthodox say Torah study, not military might, has ensured the survival of the Jewish people, and that young men should dedicate their lives to reading the Scriptures.

Currently, full-time Jewish seminary students are not drafted and even get a government allowance if they don't have jobs. About 30,000 seminarians of draft age are not serving in the army, recent estimates show. Though the ultra-Orthodox oppose military service for seminarians, other observant Jews do serve in the army.

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