The first hesder yeshiva for haredi (ultra-Orthodox men) has recently received approval from the Defense Ministry and is now up and running, with 16 students having embarked on a four-year course of Torah study and military service.
The hesder program is designed overwhelmingly for men from the national-religious sector and combines 17 months of military service with three-and-a-half years of yeshiva study, although the course for ultra-Orthodox recruits is different in composition from the regular hesder program.
The course will be run by the Derech Haim Yeshiva, which is based at the campus of the Jerusalem College of Technology, known as Machon Lev. Unlike regular hesder service, participants in the Derech Haim program will serve for 24 months in the IDF.
The Defense Ministry gave its final approval for the yeshiva to be recognized as a hesder institution last week.
The first stage of the course, according to the program directors, will comprise a high standard of religious studies in the mornings and afternoons for a two-year period, which will focus on the acquisition of a deep practical understanding of Jewish law.
During this phase, students will attend classes about defense in the evenings provided by Machon Lev and developed by the Cyber Defense Unit of the IDF, providing approximately one thousand hours of study over the two-year period.
Recruits will then embark on their two-year period of military service in the army’s Cyber Defense Unit, although they will not live on an IDF base and will be able to remain in their college residences, similar to soldiers filling other non-combat positions in the military.
They will therefore be able to return to their religious studies in the evenings, while the other aspects of their military service will be conducted so as to allow the recruits to maintain their haredi way of life.
These factors were critical in giving the program legitimacy and credibility for possible recruits from the mainstream haredi community.
It is hoped that once the soldiers complete the fouryear course they will have acquired the necessary tools for integrating into the workforce.
The field of cyber defense in which they will specialize will give them a high level of employability in today’s job market, it is hoped.
Of the 16 haredi men who have begun the course, the majority are born to parents who immigrated from the English-speaking countries and who have attended haredi high schools, whose students obtain the Israeli highschool diploma, something which most haredi educational institutions for highschool children do not do.
There are, however, participants in the hesder course from more mainstream haredi junior yeshivot. The recruits from these institutions required remedial courses in core subjects such as math and English in order to obtain the required level for the academic courses.
Registration is open for the next academic year and the yeshiva hopes to take 15 to 25 recruits.
Rabbi Karmi Gross, originally from the US, was one of the leading figures behind the initiative, and wanted to provide an avenue for highly motivated young men from the haredi community to both do military service and engage in rigorous religious studies study.
“We see ourselves as a bridge to allow men from the haredi world who want something different to learn Torah and serve the country at the same time,” Gross told The Jerusalem Post.
“We believe there are two ideals; one is sitting and studying Torah and the other is working and learning whenever you can, and both of these are desirable.
Showing the beauty of Torah is a sanctification of God’s name and for haredim to go out and contribute towards society can help achieve this.”
Yesh Atid MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, who has been involved in helping navigate the approval process for the course with the Defense Ministry and the army, praised the program as a model for the haredi community to embrace for enabling ongoing Torah study and the preservation of a haredi lifestyle, while fulfilling the requirements for military service.
“This [program] enables boys to be in yeshiva for four years while also fulfilling their service and learning the skills necessary to enter the work force when they finish their service and yeshiva years,” said Lipman.
“I want to praise the defense minister who did not hesitate to grant hesder status to Derech Haim and I praise Rabbi Gross for taking the initiative and the hard work he has put in to make this dream become a reality.”