Hesder heads reject longer IDF service

Rabbis warn 2-year service would cause demise of the hesder enterprise.

Heads of hesder yeshivot met on Wednesday to reject a recommendation to lengthen army service of hesder soldiers, warning it would result in the demise of the hesder enterprise. Lengthening hesder soldiers' military service from 16 months to two years is one of a series of reforms recommended by the Ben-Bassat Committee. "We are surprised that the Ben-Bassat did not even bother to meet with us before making a recommendation that, if implemented, would close down the entire hesder yeshiva endeavor," said Rabbi David Stav, spokesman of the Union of Hesder Yeshivot and head of the Petach Tikva Yeshiva after a meeting of ten yeshiva heads in Karnei Shomron. "We hope to explain to the IDF that the hesder yeshivot are essential to a strong army," said Stav. According to the Ben-Bassat recommendations the lengthening of hesder service to two years would coincide with the shortening of military service from three years to two years for all soldiers. As a result, hesder would lose its advantage as a shorter mandatory army service. Another reform, not included in the Ben-Bassat recommendation, which was proposed by OC Human Resources Maj. Gen. Elazar Stern calling for the complete integration of hesder soldiers with secular soldiers, was accepted by a limited number of yeshivot. The IDF expected about half of the hesder soldiers slated for recruiting in March to be integrated. However, much fewer agreed. "We hope all proposed reforms will be implemented without coercion," said Stav. "This is a principle that cannot be compromised." Relations between the IDF and the hesder yeshivot have deteriorated somewhat in the months following disengagement. About a dozen hesder soldiers found guilty of insubordination received what many hesder rabbis and soldiers feel was excessive punishment. Also, many hesder soldiers feel the IDF was exploited for goals, such as unilateral pullouts, that they see as contrary to the best interests of the state and the ideals of religious Zionism. Several heads of hesder yeshivot told The Jerusalem Post that a growing number of soldiers are choosing to postpone indefinitely army service like haredi yeshiva students. Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, head of the Elon Moreh hesder yeshiva and symbol of the more right-wing rabbis faithful to former Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Avraham Shapira who advocated insubordination during disengagement, have gained popularity. Levanon said that he already noticed a sharp rise in interest in his yeshiva, six months before enrollment, which takes place in the Jewish month of Elul. Attempts by the IDF to single out Levanon for censure for calling to refuse military orders have only boosted his popularity. In this atmosphere relations between the IDF and the hesder yeshivot have been tense. Wednesday's meeting of hesder yeshiva heads was aimed at formulating positions ahead of an upcoming meeting with Stern and Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz.