An Israeli court stops financial support for ultra-Orthodox Jews who do not serve in the army

TEL AVIV – Israel's Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a halt to government funding for ultra-Orthodox Jewish yeshiva students who do not serve in the military, a massive ruling that could jeopardize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's leadership as he wages war on Hamas in Gaza clashes with key ally the United States.

The government faces a separate deadline on Monday to come up with a new military recruitment plan, as the war stokes public anger over exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jews – a long-standing point of tension that could now lead to political unrest.

The court has set New pressure On Netanyahu, whose fragile ruling coalition relies in part on two hard-line parties that have called for the exemptions to remain in place. The collapse of Netanyahu's government would push Israel into new elections, which opinion polls indicate he is likely to lose.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu's war cabinet includes centrist former military generals who have given voice to growing frustration among the Israeli Jewish public over the fact that ultra-Orthodox Jews are being excused from service even in the midst of the war between Israel and Hamas.

Most Jewish men in Israel are required to serve approximately three years in the army, along with years of reserve service, while Jewish women must serve a mandatory two years. But for decades, there have been exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jews, who make up about 13% of Israeli society, to allow them to study full-time in yeshivas.

The Supreme Court previously ruled that the exemptions were discriminatory and gave the Israeli government until Monday to present a new plan that addresses those concerns, and until June 30 to pass it.

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Netanyahu's attorney general, Gali Baharav Meara, wrote in a memorandum to the court that she saw no legal basis for not proceeding with the forced conscription of ultra-Orthodox Jews on Monday.

On Thursday, Netanyahu asked the court for a 30-day extension to develop a new plan, but it appears the court did not immediately respond to his request.

The Supreme Court separately issued its temporary order barring the government from funding monthly stipends for religious school students between the ages of 18 and 26 who did not receive a deferral from the military last year. She said the funds would be frozen starting April 1.

The ruling will affect about a third of the roughly 180,000 yeshiva students who receive government subsidies for full-time study, according to Israeli television station Channel 12, which said the subsidies could be temporarily covered by the ruling coalition's discretionary funds.

The centrist members of Netanyahu's war cabinet, both former military generals, have called on all factions of Israeli society to contribute to the country's war effort.

Benny Gantz, Netanyahu's main political rival, on Thursday welcomed the Supreme Court's decision on funding religious schools, writing in a letter. mail On the

He added: “It is time for the government to do the obvious.” “It's time to work.”

More than 32,000 people were killed in the Israeli offensive on Gaza, which began after the October 7 Hamas attacks, in which about 1,200 people were killed and about 260 were taken hostage.

Tensions over exemptions from mandatory service for ultra-Orthodox Jews have only heightened in the midst of the deadly war, in which more than 500 Israeli soldiers were also killed.

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Ultra-Orthodox Jews said conscription would threaten their way of life and their commitment to upholding Jewish commandments, which they say protect Israel as much as they protect its army.

Aryeh Deri, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, described the court’s decision as “unprecedented bullying of Torah students in the Jewish state.”

Dr. Aharon Eitan, a researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research who focuses on ultra-Orthodox Jews and is also a certified rabbi and graduate of the ultra-Orthodox yeshiva, has a different view.

About two decades ago, he decided to enlist in the Israeli army as a combat soldier — and said he believed that “even if you study Torah, I think you should still participate.”

“This is not the typical Haredi approach that I share with you,” he told NBC News in a phone interview Thursday evening. “But there are Haredim who defend such a position.”

Eitan said he believes that “the fact that you study Torah does not mean that you are exempt from paying your dues and participating in the defense of the country — especially after October 7.”

An opinion poll conducted by the website Israel Democracy Institute In March it was found that most Israelis want to see changes to exemptions granted to the ultra-Orthodox community.

Among Israeli Jewish participants, a large majority (70%) said they believed changes should be made to the exemptions granted to the Haredim. Among the Haredim, only 19% agreed, while 34% of Israeli Arabs shared the same opinion.

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