As a gesture of appreciation and support to Haredi soldiers serving in the IDF, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi participated in the Netzach Yehuda Battalion’s Chanukah candle lighting ceremony Wednesday near Beit-El.
The Netzach Yehuda Battalion is a part of the IDF’s Kfir infantry brigade. The unit, once called Nahal Haredi for its Haredi members, was established to provide a segregated unit for the integration of Israel’s ultra-orthodox community into the IDF.
The unit is all male, with no women soldiers. It is for orthodox recruits alone and requires all of its members to observe Jewish law while offering them time for Torah study. Today, many non-Haredi orthodox soldiers, including new immigrants, also serve in the unit.
The Haredi community has traditionally declined to serve in the Israeli military and instead take advantage of deferments offered for those who study in yeshiva. But these deferments come with many drawbacks. For example, people on such deferments may not hold full employment or study in universities until their draft obligations are over.
In 1999, the first unit of 30 Haredi soldiers was inducted. The project was initiated by the Netzach Yehuda Association in full cooperation with the Ministry of Defense and the IDF. Within a couple of years, the IDF formed the first Haredi fighting battalion, Netzach Yehuda – Battalion 97. Today, the battalion operates in the Binyamin (Ramallah) and Menashe (Jenin) sectors.
Rabbi David Fuchs, rabbi of Netzach Yehuda Foundation and one of the original founders of the brigade, addressed the soldiers and guests at the ceremony. “The Netzach Yehuda Battalion operates with excellence, and they are our contemporary Macabbees—combining a fighting spirit with the unique atmosphere that prevails here among us. Am Yisrael thanks you for your self-sacrifice, your devotion and determination,” he said.
In their respective speeches, the defense minister and chief of staff both commended the Netzach Yehuda Battalion as a remarkable brigade that excels in all realms and expressed their gratitude and pride in Haredi soldiers who serve, sometimes at the cost of estrangement from their families.
The Defense Minister quoted Rabbi Fuchs’ remark that Netzach Yehuda soldiers are modern-day Maccabees, and that “the combination of their strength and spirit is what empowers Am Yisrael throughout all the generations to stand strong against those who rise against us and to triumph.”
The event was also attended by Commander of the Northern Battalion General Yehuda Fuchs; Commander of the Judea and Samaria Region Brigadier General Saar Tzur; Commander of Kfir and Binyamin regions Brigadier General Avi Blott; Vice Director of the Defense Ministry Mr. Moshe Zin; Defense Ministry Department of Recruitment Director Mr. Udi Dror; and Chief Executive Officer of Netzach Yehuda Mr. Yossi Levi; bereaved family members, soldiers and commanders of the battalion.