Israel’s Supreme Court Orders Ultra-Orthodox Men to Serve in Military

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday, in a unanimous decision, that ultra-Orthodox men must be drafted for military service.

The court stated that without a law differentiating between Jewish seminary students and other draftees, Israel’s compulsory military service system applies to the ultra-Orthodox, as it does to other citizens, according to

Ultra-Orthodox men have historically been exempt from the draft, which is mandatory for most Jewish men and women.

These exemptions have sparked outrage among the secular population and deepened divisions amid Israel’s ongoing war against Hamas terrorists, as the military has mobilized tens of thousands of soldiers for its conflict in Gaza. Over 600 soldiers have perished in the eight-month-long war.

Politically influential ultra-Orthodox parties, who are key partners in the governing coalition, oppose any modification to the existing system. Should the exemptions be abolished, the governing coalition could disintegrate, leading to new elections.

Government lawyers argued before the court that compelling ultra-Orthodox men to enlist in the military would “tear Israeli society apart.”

The court declared that the state was engaging in “invalid selective enforcement, which constitutes a serious violation of the rule of law, and the principle according to which all individuals are equal before the law.”

Ultra-Orthodox men attend specialized seminaries where they largely abstain from secular subjects like math, English, or science. Critics have asserted that these men are inadequately prepared to serve in the military or enter the secular workforce.

Cabinet minister Yitzhak Goldknopf, who heads one of the ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition, stated on X that the ruling is “very unfortunate and disappointing.”

“The state of Israel was established to be a home for the Jewish people whose Torah is the foundation of its existence,” he wrote. “The Holy Torah will prevail.”

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers are now expected to face intense pressure from religious leaders and their constituents, and may have to decide whether it is worthwhile to remain in the government.

The exemptions have been the subject of legal challenges for years, and several court decisions have found the system unjust. However, they have repeatedly stalled due to pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties.

It remains uncertain whether Netanyahu will be able to continue to stall.

Netanyahu has attempted to comply with the court’s rulings while simultaneously making efforts to preserve his coalition. Now with a narrow majority of 64 seats in the 120-member parliament, Netanyahu is often beholden to the concerns of smaller parties.

The ultra-Orthodox perceive their full-time religious studies as their contribution to protecting Israel.

Netanyahu has been promoting a bill introduced by a previous government in 2022 that aimed to address the issue of ultra-Orthodox enlistment.

Critics, however, contend that the bill was proposed before the war and does not adequately address the shortage of troops as the army strives to maintain its forces in the Gaza Strip while also preparing for a potential conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The ultra-Orthodox community is the fastest-growing segment of the population. Each year, about 13,000 ultra-Orthodox males reach the conscription age of 18, although less than 10% enlist, according to the Israeli parliament’s State Control Committee.