When the State of Israel was founded in 1948, David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, granted the ultra-orthodox Jews living in the new state an exemption from serving in the army so that they could focus on prayer and studying the bible (Torah). At the time, this amounted to only about 400 army-age men each year.
Nowadays, the ultra-orthodox population of Israel has exploded, representing around 10% of the population today. About a quarter of the country's kindergartners are ultra-orthodox.
The fact the the ultra-orthodox don't serve in the army, study at religious seminaries instead of working, and live off welfare from the state has understandably upset the secular majority in the country. To them, they are paying extra taxes and contributing to Israeli society by serving in the army, but it's not fair that the ultra-orthodox don't have to.
Recently, this issue has come to a boiling point in Israeli society. The Knesset (Parliament) passed a law last week mandating that every ultra-orthodox male, except for the exceptionally gifted, will have to serve in the army starting in three years. This would amount to tens of thousands of ultra-orthodox males joining the army every year, compared to the 400 as originally exempted by Ben-Gurion.
This caused an uproar in the ultra-orthodox community, even before the bill was passed. Mass protests erupted around the country in the ultra-orthodox communities. An estimated 500,000 ultra-orthodox Jews literally shut down Jerusalem during one of the protests, for instance. They blocked the main way out of Jerusalem and some friends of mine had trouble getting out of the city back to Haifa for classes the next day.
Now the question becomes, what happens from here on? The ultra-orthodox leaders have called on their community to resist the draft when that day comes. If that happens, tens of thousand of ultra-orthodox males will be considered "draft dodgers" and will go to jail. And then chaos will ensue.
This issue will only become more interesting as the first draft approaches...