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.

The first 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 counterterror squad.

After they complete two years of service, Netzah Yehuda offers them resources to help them complete matriculation and pre-college studies.

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 kosher food.

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.

The second 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 integrating haredim).

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 explained.

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.

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