Photo Credit: IDF
Soldiers like Shalom Gamliel are in a special "Defenders of the Negev" unit that allows them to learn Torah and also defend Israel.

Soldiers in a new IDF company called “Defenders of the Negev” maintain an observant Jewish lifestyle and learn Torah while they work to protect the State of Israel.

Their service reflects an important goal of the IDF –  to help Haredi Orthodox Jews integrate into the army.

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The combat soldiers, all “ultra-Orthodox Jews,” undergo six months of special training that focuses on infantry patrol, pinpoint operations and even basic lessons in Arabic that enable them to communicate with the population that lives in the area.

Throughout this process, these soldiers are able to preserve their religious lifestyle. During their basic training and course, they study religion and Jewish tradition with rabbis, just as they would in a traditional yeshiva. The soldiers regularly pray, study Torah and even have a special kitchen that prepares kosher food to an extra-high standard.

“They have everything they were accustomed to here,” explains Brig. Gen. Rafi Peretz, Chief Military Rabbi to the IDF. “Everything has remained the same, except for maybe spending the night in a sleeping bag.”

The difference between the “ultra-Orthodox” youth in the program and typical Haredi draft dodgers is that they don’t wear black hats and black suits. They are what in Israel is called “Hardal,” an acronym for Haredi national religious.

However, the IDF also has a program for Haredi black hatters to join the army and learn Torah, as some Haredi Zionists do as opposed to the masses who follow their anti-Zionist rabbis.

One of the “Hardal” soldiers is New Jersey native Eliyahu Frankel, whose father told the IDF, “He woke up one morning and decided this is what he wants to do, and we think he has been enormously successful here.”

Solder Eliyahu says, “I have been able to pray three times a day and study Torah. I decided to enlist in the IDF because I wanted to contribute to the country and protect its citizens.” He said his training has helped him “understand the other side and to stick together.”

Haredi black hats are welcome.

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