The three main criteria for ultra-Orthodox youth to serve in the IDF is that the
units they serve in do not have female soldiers, commanders or instructors, that
the food served is glatt kosher and that the soldiers receive time for Torah
learning and prayers.
Currently, there are two specially designed tracks
for ultra-Orthodox youth – also known as haredim – in the IDF.
track and the one that has been around the longest is the Netzah Yehuda
Battalion, previously known as Nahal Haredi.
Part of the Kfir Infantry
Brigade, Netzah Yehuda, mostly operates in the West Bank. Established in 1999
with a mere 30 soldiers, Netzah Yehuda is today the largest battalion in the
IDF, with close to 700 soldiers, including four companies and an elite
After they complete two years of service, Netzah
Yehuda offers them resources to help them complete matriculation and pre-college
Besides being the only unit in the IDF whose members have to
wear a kippa and keep Shabbat, it is also women-free and soldiers eat only Glatt
Many of the soldiers have families who frown upon their
service in the Zionist army. As a result, among the dozens of lone soldiers in
the unit a third have parents who live in Israel but receive the status, which
includes housing, because their families have cut all ties.
track is in the air force, the Technological and Logistics Directorate, Military
Intelligence and the C4I Directorate, and is called Shahar (a Hebrew acronym for
The program was first started in 2007 by then
commander of the IAF and current El Al CEO Elazar Shkedy due to dwindling draft
numbers within the branch’s technical units.
The attempt was successful –
today around 300 haredi youth have enlisted in the IDF through the Shahar
programs – and the soldiers are trained to serve as mechanics, computer
programmers and electricians.
The soldiers’ immediate work environment is
without women, and they receive glatt kosher food and attend one Torah lesson a
day. They do not stay in their bases overnight and the starting salary is
between NIS 3,000 and NIS 4,000 per month.
One of the ways the IAF
measures the success is through the requests it receives from the soldiers to
become officers. In 2010, for example, 60 percent of the Shahar soldiers in the
IAF submitted official requests to attend Bahd 1, the IDF Officers School, and
to extend their military service.
“The advantage of the Shahar programs
is that they provide the soldiers with skills that can be used as a profession
for life,” an officer in the IDF’s Manpower Directorate recently
In the C4I Directorate, for example, the soldiers undergo a
half-year course during which they are trained as computer programmers. In the
Technological and Logistics Directorate, the soldiers can become qualified
electricians as well as medical systems technicians.