Nahal haredi soldier 248 AJ.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The strictly Orthodox soldiers who performed their mandatory service in the IDF's Netzah Yehuda Battalion will soon begin to perform reserve duty, according to a precall-up notice obtained by The Jerusalem Post.
The more than 2,000 former soldiers who served since 1999 in the combat unit, known as the Nahal Haredi, do not currently perform reserve service, as there is no suitable framework for them. This has been a source of consternation for many of the men who volunteered to fight in this unit.
In 2007, 100 former soldiers sent a petition to the military demanding to serve in the reserves.
The Nahal Haredi was founded in 1999 by Rabbi Yoel Shwartz, as an alternative to full time Torah study for ultra-Orthodox youths who wished to serve their country without compromising their religious needs or communal values. Most Haredim don't perform military service and instead receive student deferments.
In the precall-up letter sent just before Pessah to discharged infantrymen from the battalion, Col. Lior Carmeli, commander of the Menashe reserve brigade, wrote: "The establishment of the Netzah Yehuda [reserve] battalion is made possible thanks to the faith, willingness and motivation among the discharged soldiers of Battalion 97 [Nahal Haredi] who requested to continue to contribute and to serve in the IDF in a reserve service framework and in conditions that will enable them to maintain the values that characterize the soldiers of the battalion."
The battalion will be active in "protecting against hostile terrorist activity and in the war on terror throughout northern Judea and Samaria." The battalion currently operates in the Jordan Valley, Carmeli wrote.
Former members of the unit are excited about the prospect of serving in the reserves. According to Gabi Hayehudi, a former squad leader and the son of New York-born Likud activist Shmuel Sackett, "It has been almost two years [since my discharge] and meantime all my friends who were not in Nahal Haredi were going to the reserves. I was jealous and I wanted to be a part of it, and now thank God I see that it might come to fruition," he said last week.
Hayehudi was one of the members of his company who, as it was demobilized in November 2007, signed a petition calling for the immediate establishment of a reserve framework for ultra-Orthodox soldiers.
When asked if he believed he would be able to maintain the same religious standards in the reserves as in regular service, Gabi said it would "help [strengthen] my belief in God."
"Having a battalion in the army without a reserve battalion is doing half a job and we as a Jewish army like finishing a job, and that's miluim [reserve duty] all the way."
Rabbi Shlomo Ben-Ze'ev has served the Netzah Yehuda non-profit support organization for a number of years as a spiritual adviser to the soldiers undergoing basic training. He feels that the creation of a reserve battalion for the haredi sector will have wide societal repercussions.
"[Reserve duty is] the natural extension of the army service the boys have done and it's a case of the haredi community adding on another stone in [the crown] of their activity in the Land of Israel... and they will obviously make a tremendous Kiddush Hashem [sanctification of the name of God] in doing that," he said.
Ben-Ze'ev summed up the feelings of many people involved in this undertaking when he said, "Look, the bottom line is, the more people doing miluim, the more of a presence you have in the haredi community. That was always the goal, that boys would come from the haredi community and go back to the haredi community."
"I think it's good. It will have a tremendous impact on Israeli society... Eventually, if you have one battalion of regular army, then over a few years you get two battalions of reservists," he said.
According to Rabbi Tzvi Klebanow, the director of the Netzah Yehuda support organization, the establishment of a reserve unit is a "building block" in the eventual creation of a Netzah Yehuda brigade.
For a haredi soldier, army life can be a daunting prospect religiously. Their community adheres to standards of kosher certification much more stringent than that of the rest of the IDF and does not approve of coeducational military service.
The Nahal Haredi program was created to circumvent the issues that could prevent a religious soldier from serving. As such, there are no women in the unit and it holds itself to strict guidelines in preparing food. Moreover, the unit provides an enhanced religious program, with Torah classes and regular services on top of their normal duties.
It was the need to duplicate such an atmosphere that has prevented the formation of a reserve unit until now, Klebanow said.
"That's why it took so long to put together, because the army understood that they cannot do a miluim unless they have all of the conditions of service of Netzah Yehuda," he said. "They will have the same conditions as Netzah Yehuda."
According to the rabbi, the soldiers will not be called all at once, due to the large number of those eligible to serve in the reserves. The plans have not been finalized. The men will likely be called up in shifts the size of companies, he said.
The IDF said it was reviewing the available manpower. However, reservists have already begun receiving precall-up notices in the mail.
When queried about the gap of 10 years between the formation of the regular unit and its corresponding reserve battalion, the IDF Spokesman's Office declined comment. It is unclear how much this project will cost, but it may be considerable due to the number of soldiers eligible for duty.
The IDF released the following statement. "When the [reserve] battalion becomes active, all efforts will be made to maintain all of the conditions that existed in the regular service battalion of Netzah Yehuda."