Photo Credit: Flash 90
Hareidi soldiers at rifle practice.

One of the IDF’s best weapons is the growing number of Hareidi combat soldiers, which is making the army stronger physically and spiritually.

A new combat unit of Hareidi soldiers is being established in the Givati Brigade, whose national religious commander Ofer Winter was promoted last week to take over the Central Command and continue his successful program to integrate Hareidim into the army, as the JewishPress.com reported here Thursday.

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Approximately 45 Hareidim from the ages of 18-22 already have been drafted for a new Tamar unit, and new positions are being opened for Hareidim in combat support units. The first Hareidi soldiers to operate bulldozers are expected to begin serving in four months.

In the Nevatim Air Force Base in the Negev, Hareidim will take combat support positions and be responsible for equipment for paratroopers.

This year, 2,226 Hareidim have enlisted in the IDF, and the number is expected to rise to 2,700 by next July. More than 100 Hareidi soldiers have passed tests, including hand-to-hand combat, to be accepted as combat soldiers in the Hareidi Netzach Yehuda infantry battalion.

An IDF officer told Haaretz that the new Givati company follows the model that IDF thinks is the best way to integrate Hareidi soldiers into the army. Instead of placing them in units with secular soldiers, where one group might dominate the other, the military thinks that all-Hareidi companies are the best model.

Additional Hareidi combat units are expected to open up in the coming years.

The motivation of Hareidi combat soldiers is extremely high, and the Netzach Yehuda has been praised several times for soldiers’ quick reactions that have prevented or minimized terrorist attacks.

The success of Hareidim as combat soldiers is ironical for the secular scoffers who for years have been accusing Hareidim of draft-dodging.

Yeshiva students often capture headlines when they are arrested for not reporting for the draft, but the hundreds of Hareidim enlisting as combat soldiers is nothing short of a quiet revolution in the army as well as in Israeli society.

Within the army, from the foot soldier to top brass, religious practice is not an issue. Winter was promoted to Brigadier-General because of his success as an officer. He was not passed over because he is religious and was not promoted just because he is religious.

When secular soldiers see Hareidim fight just as they do, the social and religious barriers drop. It is more likely that secular Jews will be influenced by Hareidim much more than non-observant soldiers will influence Hareidim to take off their black kippas.

Providing a religious infrastructure for religious soldiers in the army goes back to the days of Prime Minister David Ben Gurion.

When the late Rabbi Shlomo Goren, who was a career IDF officer, complained that there were no kosher facilities for soldiers in the Paratroopers unit, he was told, “Find me one religious paratrooper and we will provide kosher food.”

Rabbi Goren promptly showed up for paratrooper training, passed the test and became the first religious paratrooper.

Kosher food then was served.

More than once, secular paratroopers, before parachuting, have been moved by religious paratroopers saying a prayer before for jumping out of the plane opening the chute.

Many of the secular soldiers, some of whom never said in a prayer in their lives, asked to do the same.

Secular anti-Hareidi politicians, who use to laugh at warnings that the army will become more religious if they insist on drafting more Hareidim, soon may regret their wishes.

 

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Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu is a graduate in journalism and economics from The George Washington University. He has worked as a cub reporter in rural Virginia and as senior copy editor for major Canadian metropolitan dailies. Tzvi wrote for Arutz Sheva for several years before joining the Jewish Press.
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