By Rachel Kendal (Bogeret and Madricha)
In 1999 Ehud Barak (the most highly decorated soldier in Israel’s history) was elected as Israel’s tenth prime minister following a vote of no confidence in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. On August 22nd, Barak appointed the Tal committee to deal with the controversial issue of the exemption of ultra-orthodox Jews from military service. This had little impact on the general trend of large and increasing numbers of ultra-orthodox Israelis being granted exemption from military service, with 9.2% of soldiers enlisting into the army in 1999 exempt under the Torato Omanuto arrangement because they were Yeshiva members - an increase on the 2.4% of 1974, with the prediction that the percentage would be as high as 15% by 2012 at the time.
This controversy, which continues to this day, has significance to me. It highlights two important aspects of Israel’s identity; firstly its significance as the only Jewish state in the world and secondly the ongoing military threat which is posed to Israel by its neighbours, which makes military service such a central part of Israeli life and culture.