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Israel OKs Controversial Law To Conscript Ultra-Orthodox Jews

Israeli lawmakers have voted to end the practice of exempting ultra-Orthodox Jews, or Haredi, from national service, a move that opens them up to military conscription for the first time in the country's 65-year history.

The Knesset passed the measure 67-1 with the opposition boycotting it in the 120-member legislature.

Haredi Judaism is a branch of the religion that shuns modern secular culture. Adherents, including Hasidic Jews, are distinguished partly by their conservative and uniform attire.

The Jerusalem Post reports:

"The law has been heavily criticized by leading experts on haredi society. Last week, a group of 30 leading experts and analysts of the haredi community said that the law, which will provides for the imprisonment of any yeshiva student refusing to serve, would lead to a halt in the integration of the haredi community into national service.

"They warned that the possibility exists that the arrest of yeshiva students could lead to civil rebellion against enlistment, violent protests and a decree from the leading haredi rabbis banning enlistment."

The newspaper says the Movement for Quality Government, which has opposed the bill, would appeal to the High Court.

"The change begins tomorrow morning and it is expected to transform the face of Israeli society unrecognizably," Yaakov Peri, from the Yesh Atid party, which has led the drive for draft reforms, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying.

The AP says:

"Since Israel's founding in 1948, the ultra-Orthodox, who make up about 8 percent of Israel's 8 million citizens, have largely been allowed to avoid military service in order to pursue religious studies. In contrast, most other Jewish men perform three years of compulsory service.

"The stark difference in the society continues well into adulthood. Older religious men often don't work and collect welfare stipends while continuing to study full time.

"The ultra-Orthodox insist their young men serve the nation through prayer and study, thus preserving Jewish learning and heritage. But the exemptions have enraged secular and modern Orthodox Israelis who say the ultra-Orthodox are not doing their fair share."

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