Ultra-Orthodox Jewish youths study religious texts at a synagogue in Jerusalem on April 7, 2011. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, or "Haredim," are a tight-knit community who make up 8 percent to 10 percent of Israel's 7.7 million population, with eight children per family on average. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Baz Ratner *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-ISRAEL-POLL, originally transmitted on March 8, 2016.

Israeli court annuls law exempting religious from military

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's Supreme Court has struck down a 2015 law that granted exemptions from military service to ultra-Orthodox men, in a move that could reignite long-standing tensions between Israel's politically powerful ultra-Orthodox community and the secular Jewish majority.

Most Jewish men are required to serve in the military when they turn 18, but the ultra-Orthodox community has won exemptions, arguing that young men studying in Jewish seminaries serve the nation through study and prayer.

Secular Israelis say the system is unfair. Past attempts to force religious men to enlist have triggered violent protests by members of the ultra-Orthodox community.

The Israeli government moved to reduce exemptions and increase ultra-Orthodox military service in a 2014 law. But a year later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government, formed with religious allies, canceled those reforms.

In its decision Tuesday (Sept. 12), the court ruled overwhelmingly in favor of appeals against the 2015 law, saying it discriminates between the ultra-Orthodox and those required to serve in the military. The court ordered the law's replacement within a year.

Former Finance Minister Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party, which pushed for greater ultra-Orthodox enlistment, hailed the court's decision, saying that military service "is for everyone and not just for suckers."

"The high court ruled that there are no first-class citizens and second-class citizens in Israel," he said.

Israeli parliament members from ultra-Orthodox parties fumed at the court's decision.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said the decision "proved once again the serious disconnect between the High Court and the Jewish people." He said his religious Shas party would push for legislation that would preserve the status quo.

Meir Porush, a lawmaker with the United Torah Judaism party, said the court's "judicial activism" undermined parliament's legislative authority and was leading the country to "Armageddon."