New 'hesder' option ups IDF service from 16 months to 2 years

Hesder yeshiva students will now be allowed to spend two years in the IDF - eight more months than in the past - and two years in yeshiva, shaving off a year from the traditional five-year program, the union of yeshiva heads announced this week. The initiative was brought to a vote and approved by heads of hesder yeshivas throughout the country. IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi asked them two years ago to agree to an increase in the time the students spend in army service amid dropping enlistment numbers. At the time, the hesder heads opposed the initiative. Currently, under the hesder program, religious-Zionist youth shorten their military service to 16 months as part of a five-year program that combines army duty with study of classic Jewish texts. Under the new arrangement with the IDF, youth will be able to choose between two hesder tracks - the five-year traditional track with a 16-month military service or the new four-year track with two years of military service. Under the new track, the students will spend their first year in yeshiva, the next two in the IDF and the fourth year back in yeshiva. "This new track provides a solution to those youth who were afraid to commit to a long-term program and significant period of learning in yeshiva," director of the hesder union Eitan Ozeri said. "They now can integrate into the new track that meets their needs."