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Israel’s High Court orders cuts to yeshiva students’ stipends

JERUSALEM (RNS) Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled Tuesday (Feb. 4) that the government must suspend stipends to 18- to 20-year-old yeshiva students whose military conscription has been postponed by a government reluctant to anger ultra-Orthodox Jewish legislators.

Back in 2012, the High Court struck down the law that granted military exemptions to yeshiva students. But the government did not act on that ruling, allowing yeshiva students to continue to take advantage of the long-standing exemption. That led several groups opposing the exemption to petition the high court to revisit the case.

Military exemptions are a highly charged issue in Israel, where all able-bodied Jewish 18-year-olds, both male and female, are required to serve for three and two years respectively, as long as they are not ultra-Orthodox.

In the past, ultra-Orthodox political parties in the Israeli parliament threatened to call new elections if the draft exemption were challenged. Although no ultra-Orthodox parties sit in the current coalition, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who may need their support in the future — has not forced the issue.

Since the 2012 ruling, the defense minister has deferred the students’ draft date three times.

The ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Shas Party told the newspaper Haaretz that it “regretted that the High Court justices joined this evening in persecuting the Torah world, while crudely intervening in a sensitive legislative process that is being discussed in the legislature during these very days.”