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Netanyahu nixes proposed Basic Law on Torah study

In a statement, the United Torah Judaism Party said the tabling of the bill at this time was "accidental."

Yeshivah students study at the Kamenitz Yeshiva in Jerusalem on July 25, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Yeshivah students study at the Kamenitz Yeshiva in Jerusalem on July 25, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

A bill proposed on Tuesday to define Torah study as a “core state value” is “off the table and will not be advanced,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party, after members of the government came out against tabling the bill.

The coalition’s United Torah Judaism Party had proposed the passage of a quasi-constitutional Basic Law in a bid to effectively place Torah study on par with military service and thus codify in perpetuity exemptions for haredim from the Israel Defense Forces.

“The State of Israel as a Jewish state views the encouragement of Torah study and Torah students to be of utmost importance, and regarding their rights and duties, those who dedicate themselves to studying Torah for an extended period should be viewed as having served a significant service to the State of Israel and the Jewish people,” read the bill.

“Torah study is a fundamental principle in the heritage of the Jewish people,” it continued.

The legislation was immediately denounced by members of Netanyahu’s party, with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant describing military service as the “highest civic duty.”

There also appeared to be an internal dispute among Orthodox lawmakers in the coalition as to the timing of the proposed legislation. UTJ’s Moshe Gafni, chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, said at a committee meeting on Tuesday that “the timing is entirely unnecessary, it’s wrong, whoever submitted it.”

One of the bill‘s aims was to prevent the Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, from striking down a proposed law that would regulate the drafting of haredi men into the army and exempt the vast majority from service.

In an official statement published on Tuesday, UTJ said the tabling of the bill at this time was “accidental.” The proposal came mere hours after the Knesset passed a key piece of the government’s judicial reform legislation into law, triggering massive protests across the Jewish state.

“As agreed upon in the coalition agreement, an agreed solution will be found with all factions of the coalition on the [IDF] recruitment issue… We apologize to anyone who tries to attach to the proposal what is not in it,” read the party’s missive.

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