Historically, the National Service program of Israel originated in 1971 and served the purpose of providing a substitute for military service for religious girls. It should be understood in the context of the political struggle between the secular and the religious groups in the country. Whereas the religious parties wanted to protect the females from the detrimental effects of military service on their morals, those who were Zionists still believed in some form of substitute service that would accommodate their moral and educational goals (Rappaport et al., 1994).
The program is presently run by various organizations that received their mandate from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (see http://molsa.gov.il/fr_Mingal.htm, 2003). Some represent the most orthodox sector of the population, whereas others serve less religious or secular groups of individuals who are not accepted to the army because of religious, moral (e.g., conscientious objectors), or medical reasons. The inclusion of the possibility to enlist volunteers who refused to serve in the IDF reflects present-day realities. The volunteers, usually high school graduates (to avoid additional training during national service), serve for 1 or 2 years. Service takes place in various social welfare agencies approved by the relevant ministries and supervised by the voluntary organizations that recruit, train, and supervise the volunteers (see http://molsa.gov.il/fr_Mingal.htm, 2003; Sherraden & Gal, 1990). Volunteers live in rented homes and receive a low wage to cover their living expenses.
They work during the week on the same schedule as other workers in the agencies employing them. Following 1 year of service, the volunteers are eligible, as is any other soldier,to various benefits (such as bonuses, grants, and scholarships, calculated in accordance with length of service) (see http://molsa.gov.il/fr_Mingal.htm, 2003; State Comptroller and Ombudsman, 1996, 2003). During the last few years, about 7,000 volunteers have been serving annually in the Israeli National Service (S. Amzaleg, personal communication, October 2, 2002). As of September 2002, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is running an experimental program to enlist 250 males in the National Service program (see http://molsa.gov.il/fr_Mingal.htm, 2003).