The Israeli Supreme Court (also sitting as the High Court of Justice) handed down four dramatic rulings yesterday. The reason for this burst of activity was the fact that it was the last day on the court of former Supreme Court Vice-President Justice Elyakim Rubinstein. Like every judge, Rubinstein, who recently retired at age 70, had to finish writing all the rulings in the cases in which he was involved within three months of his retirement date. Yesterday was the deadline. As a result, and also due to the approaching retirement date of Supreme Court President Justice Miriam Naor, a clutch of important constitutional rulings likely to indicate something about the activist and non-activist factions on the court was handed down today.
The most dramatic ruling was striking down the draft law designed to eliminate the criminal sanctions for haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) refusing to enlist in the IDF. The decision was in response to four constitutional petitions filed against the amendments to the Law of Security Service, in which the Knesset addressed the issue of drafting professional yeshiva (Jewish religious seminary) students.
Following many Knesset discussions, a number of extensions of the existing law, and various revisions of the law exempting yeshiva students from military service, the High Court of Justice finally ruled that the law referred as the "Tal Law" was unconstitutional, and that the Knesset could not extend it when it expires (the law expired in August 2012). In effect, the court thereby struck down the law for postponing the service of yeshiva students, which led to tens of thousands of yeshiva students a year being exempted from service - and also to fierce controversy in Israel.
In the ruling, Naor stated that the postponement arrangement that began with only 400 yeshiva students in 1949 had grown to proportions that could not have been predicted. At the present time, she stated, the number of yeshiva students whose service had been postponed was in the tens of thousands, with many more thousands being added yearly, while thousands of others emerge from the arrangement with an exemption from military service. "Social polarization has grown as a result, gaps in enlistment in society have widened, and feelings of discrimination have been aggravated. The postponement arrangement has also begun to leave its mark on the economy and the labor market. It has hampered the integration of the haredi population in society, and has fed questionable social processes," the court found. Under these circumstances, Naor ruled, the law has failed, and following such a long period in which an opportunity was given to prove its effectiveness, the time has come to strike it down.
Leaders of the haredi community reacted angrily to the court ruling. Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) said that it represented discrimination against haredim, and he singled out Justice Rubinstein, who is an observant Jew, for criticism. "The Supreme Court doesn't understand what a yeshiva is," he said. The ruling is liable to lead to a coalition crisis, with haredi parties United Torah Judaism and Shas demanding legislation to circumvent the court's decision.
Professor Miguel Deutch, an expert in civil and constitutional law at Tel Aviv University, says, "Yesterday's rulings are all in defense of one supreme value or other. One defends the right to equality in the draft law, and another defends morality against corruption, as reflected in the Hirschson ruling. This ruling ostensibly deals mainly with the question of the incidence of tax laws, but it is clear that it applies the principle of not rewarding wrongdoing, in defense of a fundamental democratic value. In the issue of kashrut, the court is defending individual freedom and release from unreasonable restrictions by a government monopoly."
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on September 13, 2017
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