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Some Religious Leaders Open to Discuss Military Deferments

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Fervently Orthodox leaders have given their qualified backing to a committee that will deal with the controversial issue of exempting yeshiva students from military service.

Prime Minister Netanyahu told the Cabinet last week that he was creating a committee, headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Zvi Tal, to address the issue of draft deferments granted to fervently Orthodox, or haredi, yeshiva students.

Netanyahu’s announcement prompted Knesset member Meir Porush of the United Torah Judaism bloc to threaten to bring down the government.

But over the weekend, Knesset member Avraham Ravitz, also of United Torah Judaism, amended that stance, saying that if the committee limits its deliberations only to those people who have already finished their yeshiva studies, and not consider a general draft for all yeshiva students, “We would not create a crisis over it.”

A day after Netanyahu announced plans to create the committee, opposition leader Ehud Barak presented to the speaker of the Knesset a bill to draft yeshiva students.

The proposed legislation comes amid growing public debate regarding the increasing number of yeshiva students seeking exemptions and deferrals from compulsory army service.

Barak estimated that some 3,000 exemptions or deferrals are granted annually to haredi men who cite their desire to pursue religious studies in order to avoid the draft. Under Barak’s bill, the annual number of deferrals would be limited to 700.

In the wake of Barak’s proposal, Deputy Housing Minister Meir Porush of Agudat Yisrael published an open letter accusing Barak of inciting secular Israelis against the haredi population.

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