Campaign launched to boost recruitment to haredi army unit

Battalion leaks names of prominent rabbis with sons in IDF to press.

nahal haredi 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
nahal haredi 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As part of IDF efforts to reduce draft dodging, the heads of the Nahal Haredi battalion have in recent weeks been working aggressively to mainstream army service for dropouts from haredi yeshivot. Sources within the battalion recently leaked the names of current or former Nahal Haredi soldiers who are the sons or grandsons of prominent haredi rabbis and MKs. The grandson of Rabbi Pinchas Sheinberg, head of the Torah Or Yeshiva, one the most prestigious haredi yeshivas in Jerusalem, especially for Americans, was mentioned, as was the son of Telz Stone Chief Rabbi Aryeh Shulman. It happens that Shulman is also the son-in-law of Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin, former head of the Council of Sages of Agudat Yisrael. The son of Shas MK Haim Amsalem was also leaked. No major haredi rabbi has expressed open support for the Nahal Haredi, which is seen in the haredi community as a fringe phenomenon targeting yeshiva dropouts who are in danger of leaving the religious fold. Meanwhile, last week Nahal Haredi officials inundated haredi neighborhoods with flyers modeled after pashkevilim, the black and white notices ubiquitous in these communities, that called on "young yeshiva students not currently enrolled in a Torah institute" who want to "earn a respectable salary" to call a toll free number. The Jerusalem Post called the number that appeared on the flyer titled "Have you thought about your future?" and was answered by an IDF induction clerk. In an appearance before the Sderot Conference on Social Issues last week, OC Human Resources Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern said that 28 percent of eligible 18-year-olds dodged the mandatory draft, and that 11 of that 28% were haredim. Historically, most haredim have opposed Zionism and service in the IDF. Coed military service at a time when young libidos are blossoming was seen by haredi rabbinic leaders as a major spiritual obstacle. In recent years, however, with the creation of the Nahal Haredi, which provides strict separation of the sexes and stringently supervised kosher food, the main argument remaining against military service is its detrimental effect on the intellectual development of budding Torah scholars. Nevertheless, even those students who are not cut out for full-time Torah study have stayed away from the IDF due to social pressure, inertia and a lack of military role models. But both internal and external pressures are now pushing haredi youths to consider military service more seriously. Only 37% of haredi men are employed, according to a study conducted by Bank of Israel economist Dr. Daniel Gottlieb. Without finishing army service, a young haredi man cannot legally work. In addition, the IDF has concluded that it must boost the size of its ground forces, in light of the lessons of the Second Lebanon War. In response to falling draft rates, the army proposes enacting incentives akin to US's 1944 GI Bill, which would offer veterans - especially those who served in combat units such as the Nahal Haredi - free tuition and extra credit points at haredi-approved high school matriculation programs, colleges and occupational training centers. While thousands of haredi men turn 18 each year, the Nahal Haredi attracts only about 250, 30% of whom are Zionists who want a more stringently religious atmosphere than that offered in the modern Orthodox Hesder program, which also combines yeshiva study with military service. Amsalem is convinced that his son will be joined by more haredi youths interested in joining the labor market. "If a young man does not see his future in the yeshiva world, he has an obligation to go out and work, and the only way he can do that is by completing army service. That's the reality," the Shas legislator said.