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Sherut Leumi (Hebrew: שירות לאומי, lit. National Service) is an alternative voluntary national service in Israel for those that cannot or do not wish to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. The majority who receive an exemption from the obligatory army service are Jewish women from the Religious Zionist sector, and they receive it by declaring religious observance, as they maintain that a large number of religious observances for women cannot be upheld in the military, such as dress codes and modesty issues. However, there are also a small number of men who serve in Sherut Leumi. Volunteers are between the ages of 18 and 21. Sherut Leumi gives young women (and occasionally young men) exposure to a number of environments in Israeli society. Service typically requires working 30–40 hours/week over 12 to 24 months. Volunteers have the option of doing either one or two years of the National Service. Not all volunteers are Israeli citizens. It can be done on a tourist visa, and the volunteer will later receive a special volunteer visa that lasts as long as the person will be doing their service.
Young people in other sectors of Israeli society receive exemptions from the military. These include mainly Haredi men who maintain that Torah study is the main practice for defending Israel; they are exempted under the Torato Omanuto arrangements. Arab citizens of Israel are also exempted, in order to avoid a conflict between allegiance to their country and to their Arab brothers (a decision originally taken by Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion). Historically, very few did, but in recent years, the number of Arab youths volunteering for national service has increased. Some Israeli conscientious objectors who object to serving in the army, but are not eligible for an exemption, have voiced a wish to do an alternative form of national service instead.
In 2012, after much discussion and debate, Israel's cabinet extended military service exemption for 1,300 Haredi Yeshiva students as part of the "Shirut Le'umi Mishmar". This allows Yeshiva students to join national service, as opposed to joining the IDF. As part of the scheme, the defense minister is obliged to postpone the military service of Yeshiva students approved for national civil service, and who are at least 26 years old, or are at least 22 years old and have at least one child.
Youths work in various programs. The majority work in schools, but can also work in places such as special education, administration, hospitals, law, geriatrics, nursing homes, health clinics, teens at risk, internal security, disadvantaged communities, immigrant assistance, and many other organizations. Acceptance is based on an interview via a placement organizations that try to find the youth appropriate skills, interests, and needs.
There are four main placement organizations for Sherut Leumi. They are the Agudah LeHitnadvut (lit. Volunteering Union), Shlomit, Aminadav, and Bat Ami. Each volunteer is then assigned to a coordinator (rakezet), who serves as a supervisor and adviser for the youth throughout their time in Sherut Leumi.
Bnot Sherut (lit., female youth in the service) and Bnei Sherut (lit., male youth in the service) are entitled to a number of benefits during their service. Many of these benefits are the same as what a soldier serving in the army receives. They include:
- Monthly stipend for necessities. Amount varies with location and type of service, though usually is approximately 600 Shekels a month.
- Apartment housing in the city where they are serving.
- Refunds on intra-city bus passes (and a stamp that grants free rides on inter-city bus lines if necessary)
- Discounts offered by various business establishments.
- Social Programs such as weekend getaways, tours, learning programs, and parties.
- Weekly classes are often available, and sometimes required, on various Judaism-related subjects.
- At the end of the service, the Israeli volunteers receive a grant that can be used for things such education, buying a house, or paying for a wedding.
- Foreign volunteers receive private medical insurance.
- Free train rides (Since 2001)
Israeli Arabs in National Service
Rather than volunteer for army service, young people who are Arab citizens of Israel have the option to volunteer for this alternative national service and receive benefits similar to those received by discharged soldiers. The volunteers are generally allocated to Arab populations, where they assist with social and community matters. As of 2010[update] there were 1,473 Arabs volunteering for national service. According to sources in the national service administration, Arab leaders are counseling youths to refrain from performing services to the Israeli state. According to a National Service official, "For years the Arab leadership has demanded, justifiably, benefits for Arab youths similar to those received by discharged soldiers. Now, when this opportunity is available, it is precisely these leaders who reject the state's call to come and do the service, and receive these benefits".
- Conscription in Israel
- National service
- National Youth Service
- Religion in Israel
- Status quo (Israel)
- Torah study commandment
- Torato Omanuto - The special arrangement whereby Torah scholars who do not belong to the Religious Zionism sector are exempted from military service. This particularly applies to Haredi Jews.
- Hesder - combining the Torah study practice and full military service, for the Religious Zionism ("National Religious") sector.
- Tal committee (the "Tal law")
- Sherut Leumi on the Israeli Welfare Ministry website
- Aguda LeHitnadvut
- Bat Ami
- Nefesh B'Nefesh guide to Sherut Leumi
- Rise in Arab National Service volunteers, by Aviel Magnezi. YNet, 10.25.10, 14:47