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October 30, 2014 / 6 Heshvan, 5775
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The War on Hesder

IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi during a visit to the Modiin Hesder yeshiva in 2010. Ashkenazi said, "Yeshiva students come to the IDF armed with faith and a strong desire to contribute."

IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi during a visit to the Modiin Hesder yeshiva in 2010. Ashkenazi said, "Yeshiva students come to the IDF armed with faith and a strong desire to contribute."
Photo Credit: Yossi Zeliger / FLASH90

It’s become clear to me that getting Haredim into the army and the workforce to “share the burden” is not and has not been about that at all, but rather, as the Haredim have been claiming all along, it’s about a war on Torah, Judaism, and observant Jews in general.

As I’ve said in the past, I think its important for Haredim to be part of the workforce, if for no other reason then to break them out of the poverty cycle. On a secondary level, I think having Haredim in the army would be good for the army, in the same way that Religious-Zionist Jews have been good for the army, for the values they bring with them that positively affect and change the organizations and environments they participate in.

And as Nachal Haredi has proven, Haredim do make very good soldiers.

So what convinced me?

The first hint is that if this really was about all citizens sharing the burden then why isn’t anyone trying to pass draconian laws forcing Israeli Arabs citizens to “share the burden” too?

But there’s a much bigger give-away.

Recently there have been virulent attacks on the Hesder system.

The Hesder system is a 5 year track which is divided between 16 months of army service and three and a half years of Torah study. Typically speaking, some Religious-Zionist students take this track as it allows them to develop their Torah studies and also serve their country. During their service, most serve in homogeneous units with other Hesder students.

After five years, the student-soldier is released from the army and allowed to go on to college and work.

Approximately 10% of Religious-Zionist students (around 750 boys) choose the Hesder track instead of the full three year army program each year. The program is actually open to any Israeli who wants to seriously learn Torah and serve. I believe it was based on the original Nachal program that combined a year and half of army service, with a year and a half of service creating new Kibbutzim.

The argument being bantered around is that it is not fair that Hesder soldier-students are not “sharing the burden” unlike other Israelis who do three full years of service, which, I guess, doing simple math would sound unfair.

But, life is hardly ever simple math, so lets look at some supporting numbers that tell a completely different story.

85% of Hesder students serve in combat units. A percent that is far above and beyond that of the general population. So when it comes to the burden they are undertaking, Hesder students are undertaking the dangerous part of that burden, unlike say, a news reader in the Army Radio unit, or an army cook who serves one week on and one week off.

And it’s no secret that Hesder students are rated as top quality combat soldiers. As Rav Eliezer Melamed has pointed out, in performance contests between units, its usually the Hesder soldiers that come in first.

10% of Hesder students go on to become commanders and officers in combat units. Officers, by the way, are required to serve 4 years.

And unlike the general population, where only around 10% of the general population shares in the reserve duty burden, the vast majority of Hesder student do decades of reserve duty in combat units, meaning those in Hesder are taking on far more than their share of the reserve duty burden.

As an aside, most Hesder students don’t make Yerida (emigrate) from Israel either.

The obvious conclusions is that if you want to produce top-notch combat soldiers, combat officers, and productive citizens, we should actually be expanding the Hesder system.

I now suspect it is exactly the statistics above that have expanded this war on religious Jews to include the Hesder program.

It must scare the leftists to no end that more than half of the mid-level combat officers are religious, many from the Hesder system.

It must scare the leftists that a significant percent of combat soldiers are religious soldiers, dedicated to a Torah based value system which they can’t seem to eradicate or weaken.

It must scare the leftists that, unlike they’re forbears in the Kibbutz movement who actually served in combat units and ruled the army, these new leftists have not only abandoned the IDF but also attack and try to weaken the IDF, while these religious Jews that are serving today in the IDF are the ones who will be inheriting the IDF mantle and keeping it strong.

The whole situation has probably created a lot of consternation for the modern Leftist.

On one hand, they’re trying to tear the Haredim away from the Yeshiva, and hoping the army will do its part to rip away Torah from the Haredim, while on the other hand, they are scared senseless by the utter success of Hesder Torah students who have taken on such important roles within the army, and are helping reshape it – and not only remain religiously strong but ensure the army respects religious requirements (which, trust me, it didn’t always do).

So when you realize that despite an initial shorter active service (not counting the additional 3.5 years within the army system as non-active soldiers), Hesder student-soldiers are ultimately bearing more than their share of the burden, these attacks on Hesder begin to make a lot of sense – when you put them into context of the larger battle.

The Left want a weakened IDF, so they must weaken this strong core group of dedicated, religious soldiers and officers.

And as the Left sees the army as a weapon to secularize Haredim, Hesder is clearly a threat to that plan.

If the Left want their plan to destroy Haredi society via the IDF to succeed, they need to dismantle Hesder and the small but strong, healthy core of loyal, dedicated, religious soldiers, officers and citizens it creates every year.

After all, there’s nothing more dangerous in the mind of a Leftist than a religious Jew who believes in what he is doing for his nation.

H/T Rav Eliezer Melamed who provided many of the stats used in this post.

About the Author: JoeSettler blogs at The Muqata.blogspot.com and occasionally on his own blog at JoeSettler.blogspot.com.


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5 Responses to “The War on Hesder”

  1. Nit picking. If you have laws on serving and you serve under these laws you are doing your duty as prescribed by law. Whats the problem?

  2. Yeshiva Hesder students currently serve 16 months and not 18 months. The haredi issue is another matter. The
    Nasal haredi units consist mostly of haredi boys who are no longer in yeshiva and has Not been supported by the haredi mainstream. Almost all haredi boys remain in yeshiva util they have families. This is not sustainable on a macro level nor on a micro level. The average Israeli taxpayer is no longer willing to fund this.

  3. I think your analysis of the new left's fear of, and desire to weaken, the IDF and the Hesder movement. This attempt must be thwarted. The success of the Hesder movement makes the enlistment of Haredim more possible.

  4. Ronny Mol says:

    Laid has caused a perfect storm. The more religious soldiers, the high probality of a non vioent coup. End the anti Jew supreme court, Since leftist don't go in the army, perfect time to outlaw leftist parties with their Arab parties. What Lapid started could be a blessing in disguise.

  5. Nor leftist or rightist has the right to debate about youngsters obligation to participate in the IDF force, politicians should not put their nose to the IDF, if Huddin Desner is making a good job, let him do, Israel needs every day a very strong armed forces.

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