Ashkenazi backs Stern against hesder rabbis

Hesder soldiers combine an abridged military service - 18 months instead of three years - with Torah studies.

ashkenazi flag 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ashkenazi flag 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi voiced support on Wednesday for IDF Human Resources Head Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern's decision to halt recruiting of hesder soldiers to Golani and paratrooper units. Ashkenazi also extended Stern's term one year till the summer of 2008. Hesder soldiers combine an abridged military service - 18 months instead of three years - with Torah studies. The decision to block hesder soldiers from Golani and paratrooper units comes after a clash between Stern and hesder rabbis. Rabbis refused to acquiesce to Stern's demand that hesder yeshivas supply soldiers for a minimum of three "integrated" Golani and paratrooper platoons. These platoons would ensure equal numbers of religious and secular soldiers. The rabbis and the hesder soldiers demanded the freedom to keep the platoons segregated and manned solely by hesder soldiers. A platoon consists of about 35 soldiers. Hesder rabbis and students had hoped that Ashkenazi would support them against Stern. Rabbi David Stav, spokesman for the hesder yeshivot, said in response that he was concerned that the push to integrate religious soldiers would discourage yeshiva students from serving. "We already see signs that the upcoming August induction will be significantly lower than previous years," he noted. Stav said that many students in hesder yeshivot were opting to delay their army service indefinitely instead of serving via hesder. IDF sources said that more integration of secular and religious soldiers improved the cohesiveness of the battalions. Rabbis, in contrast, argue that segregation facilitates the transition from a very religious environment to a very secular one. Sources acquainted with Stern said that he has always opposed the segregation of religious Zionist soldiers from their secular peers. However, in the wake of the disengagement from Gaza and North Samaria, during which large numbers of hesder soldiers and their rabbis threatened to refuse orders to evacuate Jewish settlements, Stern began pushing more aggressively for full integration of hesder soldiers. Stern sees integration as a means of "watering down" the ideological intensity of the hesder cliques in the IDF. But disengagement also made many hesder soldiers rethink their loyalty to the IDF. The order to evacuate Jewish settlements is seen by many as the ideological bankruptcy of secular Zionism. Stern's decision to close the popular Golani and paratrooper brigades to hesder soldiers might exacerbate an already strained relationship. Yaakov Katz contributed to this story