A hesder yeshiva is an institution of higher religious learning which classically
structures itself around a fiveyear program combining the study of Torah and
service in the IDF. I have been teaching in the Yeshivat Hesder Derech Chaim in
Kiryat Gat for five years, and consider it a privilege to play a role in molding
young men around the ideals I strongly believe in – Torah and Israel.
hesder institutions have had a successful impact on the army and its combat
forces, and today’s perception of the observant soldier is admirably
respectable. Yet when viewing the entire paradigm of the hesder yeshiva, there
remains one aspect which is overlooked and which is a source of great
disappointment; it is unclear whether or not these institutions prepare their
students properly for life after the yeshiva.
Hesder is part of the
Mizrahi movement which is meant to be proactive and innovative when dealing with
the secular world by incorporating and synthesizing Jewish values and the
observance of Jewish law. As an elite representative of the Mizrahi philosophy,
one would expect the yeshiva hesder to recognize that not all of its students
are capable of spending their lives in the four walls of the yeshiva. Many need
to be and should be provided with opportunities to prove themselves outside the
yeshiva as they venture into the world at large and hopefully find productive
ways to become concerned and contributing members of society.
facilitator of this goal is naturally the pursuit of a secular advanced
education in colleges or universities. Therefore the yeshivot hesder should
guide and direct their students toward these goals both ideologically and
practically, yet I am afraid this is not happening.
LAST YEAR, an
initiative called Project Knowledge was introduced by Avishai Ovadya, a student
in the hesder yeshiva in Petah Tikva. The initiative calls for a yeshivat hesder
to conduct special forum and lectures which would confront social and communal
issues in society from a halachic and religious perspective, introducing these
issues to the students and enabling them to appreciate, analyze and ultimately
deal with these concerns from a religious standpoint.
This proposal can
potentially introduce part of the philosophical aspects and ideas of religious
Zionism to hesder students; however, the practical elements and their
applications are not addressed. For example, when I asked Ovadya about including
an introduction of existing options within the world of academia, he responded
by saying, “Students are aware of these options and if they want them, they know
where to find them; they do not need us for that.”
The problem with this
response is twofold.
Firstly, it is not entirely true. Many students are
not aware of all their options, nor do they realize the extent that some of them
are available. With this in mind, it is important to realize that while the
yeshivot hesder once catered to and attracted the “elite” student who was
immersed and committed to academic excellence and who naturally gravitated to
pursuing academics post-hesder, today hesder has grown in popularity and its
doors are open to and reach a much larger number and wider range of
These students include those on the periphery from a more
varied sector of society who may not have achieved excellence in their studies,
but with guidance would be interested in doing so in their future.
is not to imply that the level of study has decreased within the hesder yeshiva;
it just means it is more readily available (as it should be) to more types of
students who are both interested and prepared for the commitment that hesder
entails, and therefore whose needs must be addressed.
Secondly and more
importantly, ideologically speaking the yeshivat hesder should be facilitating
the steps its students have to take from its study halls to those of the
The yeshiva should emphasize the need for students to benefit
from a wholesome and well-rounded education for the sake of becoming productive
RECENTLY, AN article appeared in Olam Katan by Rabbi Uri Shirki
of Machon Meir Jerusalem, entitled, “Thoughts on academia (in relation to the
yeshiva world).” Shirki championed the importance of “struggling and grappling
with” the Jewish foundations of faith. He explained that Judaism promotes
investigation, and someone who is steadfast and secure about his belief in God
is not frightened by studying a diversity of sources which may contradict or
challenge those fundamentals; if he is afraid, then he must question his
foundations to begin with.
Shirki continues explaining how unfortunately
in the yeshiva (hesder) the study of emuna – belief in God – fails to
incorporate perspectives from the secular world, which in turn limits the
students’ understanding of the world and the impact they can have on it. Why are
more programs not being implemented to clarify the options and prepare students
for these goals? One of the reasons is due to some of the rabbis who teach in
hesder, and their overwhelming concern that exposure to the secular university
campus will perhaps compromise the religious values of their
Rabbi Yosef Carmel, head of the prestigious Eretz Hemda Kollel
in Jerusalem, says in response, “If the rabbis are fearful for the spiritual
well-being of their students when they venture out into ‘uncharted waters,’ then
the rabbis’ objectives and strategies need to be reassessed.”
yeshiva was established in 1953 out of concern that the secular army would have
a negative effect on the observance of yeshiva students. To help avoid this
problem, the yeshiva hesder implemented units of beinishim (an acronym for units
consisting of observant yeshiva students) who serve together to protect and
preserve their religious ideals. Interestingly enough, as the hesder students
began to prove that they were capable of doing so within the army, new trends
began to emerge. Today some of the yeshivot hesder (such as Har Bracha and
Yeroham) encourage their students to join nonobservant units and serve as
representatives of religious values.
This trend demonstrates that the
yeshiva is capable of preparing its students for challenges on the outside.
Therefore hesder should disseminate a plan and incorporate programs to prepare
its fourth- and fifthyear students to venture into academia while preserving and
enhancing the essence of Torah and its values (much like it does for its first
and second year students before they leave to serve in the army).
should introduce lecture series and presentations by accomplished professionals
who have succeeded in the world of academia but continued to uphold an
allegiance to Torah study. They should not only address the challenges religious
students can encounter on the university campus by way of warning, but they
should tout the advantages of studying in them as well. They should espouse how
the hesder students can be major contributors to the broader society based on
their experience, knowledge, tolerance and open-mindedness.
the yeshivot hesder should host a conference inviting universities and colleges
to their campuses, providing for its students practical guidance from
professionals regarding their future.
Finally, it is common practice for
the rabbis of the yeshivat hesder to visit their students while they are serving
in the army to revive their spirits; the same should be offered for students who
have completed their term and are now in university. If we expect our students
to maintain the standards of the Torah which we teach, but are aware of the
challenges to doing so in a foreign environment (such as the army and
university), then we should continue to visit our students while they are on
campus, and encourage them to maintain their Torah study as they study
This is the only way hesder will serve as the design for the
future.The writer teaches at Hesder Kiryat Gat and serves as a guest
lecturer for the IDF Rabbinate.
He is also an author and lecturer on
Israel, Religious Zionism and Jewish education.