MK Elazar Stern (Hatnua) has continued his campaign of pressure against the national-religious combined yeshiva and IDF service program and called on Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to call-up Hesder yeshiva students instead of reserve soldiers.
Ya’alon and the IDF drafted 10,000 reservist soldiers on Thursday for the ongoing military conflict with Hamas in Gaza to replace those who have already served during Operation Protective Edge.
In general, the Hesder program begins with approximately 18 months to two years study in yeshiva, followed by 17 months military service – as opposed to the 32 months service for regular soldiers, and followed by at least another 18 months yeshiva study, which is considered IDF “service without pay” – a type of reserve duty.
During the drafting of the law for haredi conscription, which dealt with other military recruitment matters as well, Stern was a fierce advocate of increasing the relatively short period of military service hesder recruits perform, earning him the enmity of many in the Bayit Yehudi faction and the national religious movement.
The MK is himself a member of the national religious community, who reached the rank of General and served as head of the IDF Human Resources Directorate.
In his letter to Ya’alon, Stern noted that many Hesder yeshiva students are currently in the “service without pay” stage and also on yeshiva term break, between the summer and Elul semesters.
“I am convinced that it is possible, and correct, to integrate those soldiers on service without pay into organic frameworks [in active IDF reserve units] or ad hoc frameworks that could be built for the benefit of the relief hundreds and thousands of reservists,” Stern wrote.
He claimed that the Hesder program receives uncritical backing and said that “the blind support given to it only damages the framework.”
“When considering the absurdity that 20-year-old soldiers are on vacation and [reservist soldiers] with family are on guard duty or on patrols, it appears to me that this issue should be examined, if not at this time, then for the challenges that lie ahead of us,” he said.
The Association of Hesder Yeshivot said in response: “Members of the hesder yeshivot from many divisions of infantry soldiers, the armored corps, artillery, combat soldiers, intelligence units, the rabbinate, and communications technicians have participated in the fighting in Operation Protective Edge, including many who were supposed to return to their yeshivot but remained in their units according to the recommendation of the Association of Hesder Yeshivot. Unfortunately, yeshiva students have not been absent from those who have been wounded.
Yeshiva students of the Hesder program are present and ready for every task the army gives them and for every purpose, and those who have not been required for military missions will return next week to the yeshivot to increase the Torah study which is no less important than the security operations.”