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Ultra-orthodox Group Mulling Future in Gov’t over Draft Exemption Bill Government Weathers No-confid

Agudath Israel’s Council of Sages was meeting all day today to decide whether the ultra-Orthodox party should continue as part of Premier Menachem Begin’s coalition government if a compromise is adopted to amend the government-sponsored bill that would exempt young women from military service simply on their statement that they are religiously observant. The compromise, worked out by a coalition committee, would require the women to declare that they do not travel on the Shabat and eat only kosher food.

The compromise is being offered in the wake of a 72-38 vote by the Knesset last night rejecting an opposition motion of no-confidence in the government because of the exemption bill. The blanket exemption was one of the conditions agreed upon by Begin for Aguda to join his Likud-led government.

The Democratic Movement for Change (DMC) voted with the government last night as did all coalition members. But the DMC has said that it will vote against the exemption bill when it comes before the Knesset unless changes are made.

Meanwhile, Agudath MK Shlomo Lorintz revealed today at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee that the former Labor government exempted Orthodox women from military service outside the regular exemption committee process. He said it exempted women from lists submitted by Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and himself.

Labor Alignment leader Shimon Peres, a former Defense Minister, said only a few women were exempted this way. But Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Zipori said that according to the figures he had the Labor government had exempted 10-15 each month in this informal manner.

Defense Minister Ezer Weizman said that so far, no woman has been exempted outside of the regular exemption committee. However, women who claimed they are Orthodox have not been called up yet, pending the outcome of the Knesset vote on the bill, he said.

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