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:
For various reasons, the status quo is untenable and unsustainable (both in the long term and in the short term).
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.
(Please keep it civil. Thanks!)