The draft exemption that ultra-Orthodox Jewish men have enjoyed since Israel's founding ended last night, and defense minister Ehud Barak has given the military a month to prepare for the change, reports AP. A law granting exemptions to religious scholars has expired and Israel's Supreme Court has ruled against extending it. Most other Israelis have to enlist at 18, and resentment of the ultra-Orthodox exemption has grown over the years. The issue brought down a unity government last month.
The exemption originally applied to just 400 scholars in 1949, but there are now more than 100,000 able-bodied men studying the Talmud instead of serving in the military or working. Ultra-Orthodox leader Meir Porush warns that "civil war" will erupt if the military attempts to draft his people, and says the military has no use for large numbers of unskilled and deeply religious conscripts anyway. Other ultra-Orthodox activists say their young men will go to prison en masse instead of serving in the military.