Tempers frayed Tuesday morning during a highly charged debate on the length of
army service performed by national-religious men in the hesder
The hesder army course combines three-and-a-half years of
yeshiva study with 16 months of army service and is considered a successful
program, with approximately 85 percent of hesder recruits serving in combat
roles in the IDF and large numbers going on to serve as
Questions have been raised, however, within the framework of
the legislative process for drafting haredim into the army, about the short
length of service performed by hesder recruits relative to ordinary IDF
soldiers, who serve 36 months.
The Special Committee for Haredi
Enlistment on Tuesday heard specific proposals made by the Peri Committee for
lengthening hesder service by one month. The suggestion has aroused considerable
opposition from national-religious leaders, however, which was expressed during
Rabbi Haim Druckman, one of the leading figures of the
national-religious community and who was invited to speak to the committee, said
lengthening hesder service would damage the required balance for yeshiva
students between their studies and military service, and said that it was
“critical to preserve the current balance in order to fulfill the purpose” of
the hesder program.
Bayit Yehudi MK Uri Orbach also voiced opposition to
the proposal, arguing that any attempt to change the hesder program would damage
an effective factory for the production of quality recruits.
contribution of hesder yeshivot goes much beyond the specific contributions of
that which is correct and and good for the IDF,” said Orbach.
this factory could cause some of those for whom hesder is a fitting program to
think about not enlisting to combat service, which would also damage the IDF
reserves in the future.”
But Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah criticized the
program and the arguments used to defend the short period of service.
I were a graduate of a hesder yeshiva, I would be very embarrassed by the
rhetoric that has been brought up in the debate by the national-religious
rabbis,” Shelah said, saying that he had heard senior officers who said they
would prefer not to take hesder recruits since divisions can be created in
companies between them and soldiers having to serve the full three
“We are basically creating a way, through hesder yeshivot, a track
that is essentially an escape route for someone who isn’t interested in serving
three years,” said Shelah.
Hatnua MK Elazar Stern also spoke vociferously
in favor of lengthening hesder IDF service.
He said he viewed the program
favorably but that the hesder course could damage the principles of democracy in
Israel in its current format, noting that IDF service of hesder recruits was
considerably shorter than that of regular soldiers.
Stern, who comes from
the national-religious community himself, questioned the commitment of hesder
students to their studies, saying “there aren’t even 1,000 yeshiva students who
can sit and learn fully.”
IDF representative Brig.- Gen. Gadi Agmon said
that the IDF believed hesder IDF service should be extended to 24 months and
added that a one-month extension would not be helpful since the army recruits in
Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett, who
attended the hearing, said he would express only thanks for the hesder
“There has been criticism for years about the disconnect
between Torah and the state,” he said. “Support for hesder yeshivot has been a
source of growth and connection between Torah and the state and Torah and
“So today we have a generation of yeshiva high-schools whose
rabbis grew up in the hesder yeshivas and support IDF enlistment, and then we
come to this committee and they’re being put on a stake.
“I will say
thank you to those rabbis who go out to work in the field [of education]. Thank
you to those combat soldiers over the decades, including those [who fought] in
the Second Lebanon War who I fought alongside – and I saw a lot of yeshiva
“The question is simple: Is the study of Torah a national value
for the existence of the State of Israel? We have existed for 2,000 years
because of Torah study.”
Committee chairwoman Ayelet Shaked of Bayit
Yehudi also expressed opposition to lengthening hesder service, saying that
there was no equality between the service of a soldier serving in a combat unit
and another soldier “who gets to go home every day.”
speaking, despite the current arrangement with hesder yeshivot for 16 months
service, in actuality hesder students serve for approximately 24 months, some of
whom are also placed in command positions.”
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