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JERUSALEM -- Israel's cabinet on Sunday approved changes to the country's draft law to increase conscription of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, putting an end to a decades-long exemption, but not the political debate surrounding the issue.
The twofold move aims to increase ultra-Orthodox participation in the military and other avenues of national service, and advance their integration into the Israeli workforce.
"This is an historic day," said Finance Minister Yair Lapid, adding that correcting the 65-year old "injustice" will benefit both the ultra-Orthodox, known as Haredim, and Israeli society at large.
Sunday's cabinet approval clears a significant hurdle, but changes still need to be approved by the Knesset, Israel's 120-seat parliament, and the matter remains a controversial in Israeli society. However, the measure appears likely to pass. A committee headed by Science Minister Yakov Peri worked on the amendment to the existing security service law for 10 weeks.
Changes include restricting the number of draft exemptions for Torah scholars and allowing deferred service only until the age of 21. Israel's military service law states that all Israeli citizens are to be drafted at age 18, including women. In practice, the state exempts many from service, most notably ultra-Orthodox Jews and the country's Arab minority, who may volunteer for service and do, in small numbers.