Jerusalem - The IDF will create an ultra-Orthodox administration to focus on increasing the number of ultra-Orthodox youth serving in the military, Israel Broadcast Corporation (Kan)  reported Sunday. The new unit will begin work following the Jewish holiday season, which ends on October 12.

The Administration will join the IDF General Staff and will be comprised of representatives of all IDF units and will centralize efforts to draft and prepare haredi soldiers. It will be headed by a lieutenant colonel and will be housed under the army’s personnel directorate.

The announcement is the latest missive in a decades-long effort to bring ultra-Orthodox Israelis, who represent about eight percent of the total Israeli population, into the military. The past few years have seen several developments:  In 2014, the  Knesset approved the Equality of Service Law setting annual quotas for haredi enlistment and criminal charges for draft dodgers by 2017; the following year, with haredi parties having returned to the ruling coalition an amendment was passed pushing implementation of the law off to 2023.

More recently, on September 12, the Supreme Court struck down the amendment, giving the government a year to re-legislate or begin drafting haredim according to the terms of the 2014 law.

The ruling created a difficult situation for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is loathe to cross the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Shas parties who are part of his current coalition.

The issue, which is a point of friction between the secular majority and ultra-Orthodox minority, dates back to Israel’s War of Independence, when Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first premier, agreed with haredi leaders to exempt yeshiva (seminary) students from military service. But while that initial exemption applied to a small percentage of Israel’s population and numbered just 400 students, the numbers have skyrocketed in recent years to more than 60,000 due to the community’s high birthrate.

Ultra-Orthodox leaders and community activists have placed the issue near the top of the community’s priority list, together with independence from state oversight on haredi education. The topic is frequently the subject violent demonstrations in haredi communities around the country, with protesters often comparing attempts to draft ultra-Orthodox youth with historic attempts by non-Jewish leaders to persecute Jews in the Diaspora.

In addition, haredi men who do elect to serve in the military are frequently subjected to verbal and physical abuse when they return home on leave.

Nevertheless, the number of Haredi enlistees has risen consistently since the mid-1990s, as the IDF has taken steps to create conditions to allow ultra-Orthodox men to serve while also retaining their religious identities. Beginning in 1998, the Nahal Brigade has maintained a division for ultra-Orthodox soldiers, named Netzah Yehuda, ensuring that soldiers are served top-standard kosher food, are not commanded by female officers and enjoy expanded time for prayer and Torah study.

In addition, the army’s Shachar program – the name is a double-entendre meaning both the Hebrew word for “dawn” and an acronym for a Hebrew phrase meaning “service for haredim” – is increasingly seen as a legitimate option for individuals who have left full-time yeshiva study and want to enter the workforce.

Ultra-Orthodox Enlistment: A timeline

1949 – Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion agrees to exempt haredi yeshiva students from military service at the height of the War of Independence, to be capped at 800 exemptions per year

1977– Menachem Begin’s Likud Party comes to power, replacing the Labor Party for the first time in the country’s history. Begin agrees to rescind the exemption cap, leading to a spike in haredi students who do not serve.

1998 – Number of exemptions reaches 30,000

1999 – Tal Law is passed, following series of court motions to declare the blanket draft exemptions illegal as a violation of the provisions of equality ensured under the Declaration of Independence. Law is a temporary measure, to be reviewed every five years, giving yeshiva students the option to push off a decision about military service until the age of 22, at which time they could choose to undergo vocational training and perform a shortened stint in the IDF, followed by annual reserve duty. Students who rejected this option would be given the option of performing a year of civilian national service, after which they would be allowed to join the workforce.

In July 2005, the state admitted that the law had not affected significant change in enlistment rates from the haredi community.

2012– Tal Law expires

2013 – Yesh Atid party forms, puts “equality of service” at center of election platform. Party wins 19 Knesset seats, forces Netanyahu to leave haredi parties out of the government.

2014 – Knesset approves Equality of Service Law, setting annual quotas for haredi enlistment and criminal charges for draft dodgers by 2017.

2015 – Netanyahu calls early elections, replaces Yesh Atid with United Torah Judaism and Shas parties who condition joining the coalition on amending the law. Implementation of the law is pushed off to 2023.

2017 – Supreme Court strikes down 2015 amendment, gives the government one year to implement the original 2014 law.