Monday, February 18, 2013

Myths and Facts

Warning: The following post may exceed the recommended daily allowance for opinion pieces by bloggers who have absolutely no business writing about controversial topics and who should stick to things like Heblish. Proceed at your own risk.

Featured prominently in the recent elections and apparently the main focus of the current coalition negotiations, universal conscription - aka “sharing the burden” – is now a hot topic here in Israel.

As I have mentioned several times, YZG and I are the very proud parents of a hesder yeshiva student/soldier, and thus, you won’t be surprised to hear that I firmly believe that hesder is the ideal answer to this issue.

However, I respect the fact that other people see things differently, but nevertheless, I think that there are two fundamental principles that we all can agree upon:

  1. For various reasons, the status quo is untenable and unsustainable (both in the long term and in the short term).
  2. Trying to modify the status quo through coercion (religious OR secular) will only backfire.

Yet, unfortunately, many political and communal leaders – including those who should know better – refuse to acknowledge one or both of these principles and have even resorted to what can only be described as misrepresentations, slander, and outright lies.

Here, then, is my humble attempt at setting the record straight:

IDF Myths and Facts

The following is based on the experiences of the CTO and his friends.

MYTH: The IDF has it in for religious soldiers.
FACT: Not only does the army go out of its way to make sure that religious soldiers are given sufficient time to daven three times a day and to bench after every meal, but consider the following true stories: (I know each of the soldiers involved personally.)

  • Soldier A’s unit was based down south, on the border, on Yom Kippur. Due to the extreme heat, not drinking would definitely lead to severe dehydration within a relatively short amount of time, and therefore, according to Jewish law, the soldiers were required to drink. However, each soldier carried a small army-issued vial in his pocket to ensure that he drink less than a “shiur” of water at a time. (CYLOR for details.)
  • Soldier B spent Yom Kippur on a remote, secluded base. On Erev Yom Kippur, the army provided a bus to take the religious soldiers to the nearest town – so that they could immerse in the mikvah.
  • Soldier C reports that before Succot, the army built a beautiful, large succah on his base. Not only was there plenty of room for everyone to eat in the succah, but there was also room for sleeping. The army even provided the soldiers with cots! Also, there were more than enough sets of Arba Minim to go around, and before Hoshanah Rabah, the army gave each soldier an additional set of aravot.
  • Soldier D participated in an advanced training course, which involved numerous written tests on the material covered. However, during chol hamoed, the tests were given on the computer.

Note that in all four cases, the soldiers didn’t request any considerations. The army simply granted them automatically.


MYTH: The IDF has no interest in making allowances for chareidi soldiers and their stringencies.
FACT: Already today, the food on a surprising number of bases is “mehadrin,” and the army has made it quite clear that it is prepared to increase that number if/when there is a demand.

Also, quietly and without fanfare, the army has been preparing for an influx of chareidim. For instance, male soldiers (including hesdernikim with low medical profiles) are being assigned to some of the positions traditionally filled by women (such as interviewing new recruits, training, etc.). The idea behind this move is to ensure that chareidi soldiers won’t have to compromise on their principles of strict gender segregation.


MYTH: Yeshivot hesder can’t be compared to “real” [sic] yeshivas.
FACT: By any objective standard – e.g. the level of learning; the students’ skills, dedication, commitment, knowledge, and love of Torah learning; and the caliber, stature, and reputation of the roshei yeshiva and ram”im – the hesder yeshivas rank among Israel’s top yeshivot.


MYTH: The IDF is working to disband the hesder units.
FACT: The IDF’s top brass clearly consider the hesdernikim to be some of the army’s best and most motivated soldiers and recognize that the vast majority of hesdernikim volunteer for combat units and are among the first to show up for reserve duty.

Moreover, the IDF is slowly opening up additional branches of the military (e.g. the navy) to hesder soldiers.


MYTH: The IDF has enough soldiers and therefore doesn’t need the chareidim.
FACT: Even a layman can understand that a bigger army is a stronger army.

But even if one accepts the premise that there’s no room in the IDF for more than a specific number of soldiers, a larger draft pool will result in a higher-quality army. (After all, the army will have the luxury of choosing the best possible soldiers.)

Also, a surplus of soldiers can mean shortened military service and less reserve duty for everyone.


MYTH: Soldiers tend to become less observant/religious while in the army.
FACT: The opposite is true for hesder soldiers.

Since the yeshivot prepare them - religiously, spiritually, halachically, mentally, emotionally, and psychologically - for their upcoming military service, hesdernikim know what they’re getting into and are acutely aware of the fact that they’re fighting for Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael according to Torat Yisrael.

Also, the yeshivot stay in touch with their beloved chayalim throughout their military service - via weekly newsletters, phone calls, and even personal visits from the yeshiva’s rabbis to the army bases.


Your thoughts?
(Please keep it civil. Thanks!)


  1. I agree. As we all know, kids change after they leave home. Some become more religious and some less so. That includes time in the army. The biggest growing problem in Israel is that the secular Left kids are looking for ways to be exempt or take non-combatant roles in the army.

  2. I have two sons who serve(d) in the army, we are chareidi, they happen to be non-religious (and not BECAUSE of the army). I have found the army to be very considerate of our feelings, etc. However, it is hard for me to imagine my oldest son, for example, managing in the army. He eats only "Badattz", and does not look at any woman other than his sisters/mom/wife.
    Also there is the NEED for a Torah community. But I DO feel that anyone who is not a TOP-NOTCH Full-time learner should do his part. And those who the army can not accommodate should do some type of community service (like a classroom assistant in a chareidi school, group work with kids-at-risk, etc).

  3. "bloggers who have absolutely no business writing about controversial topics " - you write excellently. Everything is well explained! And if you like, you can only allow polite disagreements, since it is your blog.

  4. As the mother of one of the soldiers profiled (i think) I can only agree with what you wrote. However re the army not needing the chareidim, I wouldn't go that far nor do I think it's relevant to whether chareidim should serve or not but it does seem logical that chareidim cost the army more-both in terms of mehadrin food etc and in terms of the amounts of money the army pays them, since they often marry and have kids at a younger age than the average soldier.

  5. Batya - Good point.

    Rickismom - Thank you for sharing your perspective.

    Leora - Thanks for your sweet comment!

    Malke - Yes, that is your son! :-) (I hope I got the details right...) And I agree with you that chareidi soldiers probably cost the army more. My point was just that contrary to what many people have been claiming, the IDF has made it very clear that it's willing to incur that cost. In fact, just this week the army signed a written agreement to that effect. (See here.)

  6. Just thinking of a thought... being Purim and all... wouldn't it be a Mighty Army if ONLY the Religious Men were in and the non were not, and the Army was even smaller than larger and it was one of the Mightiest Army of Israel? Only a thought...

  7. An excellent post. I have long believed that it is necessary for young Israeli to serve either in the IDF, or as an alternative to perform community service. Perhaps some of the secular Israels refuse to serve because they feel the Hareidim are being favored. Your blog makes everything so clear. Thank you. We need all these bright and capable young men both Orthodox and secular.

  8. The kol isha incident some months ago that made all the papers, and by the way involved DL soldiers, should be all the proof you need that the army is not prepared for a massive influx of charedi soldiers. Halocha is at best a secondary concern, and not just to pikuach nefesh. But to nonsense like ceremonies with women singing. The top brass never even apologized. The soldiers involved were punished. As far as the military leadership is concerned, that was the right thing to do. Shame on them. People are willing to gloss over various halachic issues to join the army. Fine, that's their prerogative. But don't go forcing your lifestyle on those that put halocha first.

  9. " Fine, that's their prerogative. But don't go forcing your lifestyle on those that put halocha first."

    Fine. Then stop expecting the rest of us to subsidize their lifestyle.

  10. Anonymous - That's exactly how things worked during Biblical times!

    Naomi R. - Thank you for your kind words!

    Chosid - Sorry, but a single incident can never be considered "all the proof" of anything (especially when neither the halachic considerations involved nor the actual chain of events were as clear cut as you seem to believe). In fact, as I noted in the post, our son's experiences and all of his friends' experiences constitute overwhelming proof of the opposite. Moreover, the hesdernikim are absolutely NOT "willing to gloss over various halachic issues to join the army," and IMHO, by making these false accusations, you are guilty of being motzi shem ra.

    Chana - Well said!

  11. Chosid - the kol isha incident did not occur in the army. It occurred in an officer training program, which is strictly volunteer, and is an option only after basic army duty is completed.

  12. BB – Thank you for the helpful clarification.

  13. I think Hesder is a great program. For better or worse, there are also not all identical in hashqafah.

    There is Torah loyalist Elon More, State loyalist Petah Tiqwah, and "on the fence" Machon Meir, which is also a great transitional yeshiva for olim who speak Eng, Russian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

    Unfortunately, Maj. Gen. and current MK Elazar Stern not only disagrees with us, but during his tenure as IDF Personnel Head he set in motion the eventual demise of the Hesder system.

  14. Esser Agaroth - You're right. B"H, there are now over 40 yeshivot hesder in Israel (kein yirbu), and they are all very different from each other. Which is only one reason why I am hopeful that the rumors of the hesder program's imminent demise have been largely exaggerated...

  15. 1) None of your stories indicate that the soldiers were exempt from desecrating Yom-Tov, only that their service was made less horrible by these small gestures.
    2) "the food on a surprising number of bases is “mehadrin,” i.e. Rabbanut "Mehadrin", that most charedim don't consider an acceptable hechsher.
    3) "the hesder yeshivas rank among Israel’s top yeshivot" for the Mizrachists, but certainly not for charedim!
    4) "a bigger army is a stronger army" is a concern for the IDF brass, not for the Charedi tzibur. Draft your own kids, and leave ours alone.
    5) "Soldiers tend to become less observant/religious while in the army." Yes, they do become less observant, since they are thought "the fact that they’re fighting for Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael according to Torat Yisrael", the Dati Leumi creed, not ours.


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