Charedim are Forcing Yeshiva Students into the IDF
An absolutely staggering development
In a shocking development, the charedi community is forcing thousands of yeshiva students to leave yeshiva and join the IDF. This is despite their claim that they believe Torah study and spirituality to be the most important thing for Israel.
No, I’m not joking. Yes, there is a catch. The catch is, these students are not charedi.
First, some background. There are various different paths that boys take after high school. Charedim go to yeshiva. Most secular boys go the army. In the Dati-Leumi (National-Religious) community, many go to hesder, a program that combines yeshiva studies with army training and service, usually combat. But because hesder is a five-year commitment, and is limited in its options for army service, many others in the dati-leumi community opted to simply go straight to the army.
In 1988, Rav Eli Sadan commissioned a survey, and discovered that of the boys who go straight to the army, fully 75% are no longer religious a year later. So he came up with a new type of program called mechina, which became extremely popular. Mechinot provide a one-year program of spiritual preparation for the army, and have even become popular with secular Israelis. The nature of mechinot varies tremendously, but they combine, to varying degrees, Torah study with physical and psychological preparation and volunteering. These programs have proven crucially benefical in strengthening these young men in Torah and spiritually before starting army service, and thus helping them remain religious even after army service.
Currently, the war in Gaza has cost the lives of over five hundred soldiers and injured many others, and is very far from over. Over 300,000 reservists have been called up, which places immense strain on them, has caused some of their businesses to collapse, and threatens the economy. Meanwhile, an even bigger war with Hezbollah looms, and the situation in Judea and Samaria is heating up. Consequently, there is a genuine crisis of manpower for the IDF.
Rav Ilay Ofran is the head of a religious mechina for boys. He announced that the IDF has informed him that due to manpower shortages in the army, all the boys in the mechinot will have to draft in March instead of August. This means that these mechina students will not be able to complete even the one single year of Torah which they put aside for their entire lives.
The IDF has also offered a proposal. They told the heads of the mechinot that if they can find replacements for their students among the ranks of second-year students in other types of yeshiva, then for every extra soldier they find, the army will take one less from the mechinot, and allow them to complete their year of Torah study.
(Rav Ofran appealed to the Dati-Leumi community to have students in Hesder advance their induction dates, so that the boys in mechinot can at least complete one full year of learning. He didn’t even bother trying to appeal to the charedi community.)
As one reader pointed out to me, this situation is an absolute game-changer.
The tens of thousands of charedi yeshiva students getting exemptions from army service are preventing others from being able to learn Torah. Even if they seem to (unbelievably) believe that charedi blood is redder that non-charedi blood, how can they possibly claim that their Torah is more important than some other Jew’s Torah? How can they possibly justify that others should stop learning Torah, and not them?! Surely the burden of having to cancel Torah learning must be shared equally amongst all who are learning Torah!
And it’s even worse than that. A charedi young man who enlists in the IDF, with a huge group of other charedi young men, is very likely to remain religious. On the other hand, these young men in the mechinot, who tend to come from weaker religious backgrounds, are much less likely to remain religious. So it’s not just about taking away their Torah learning, it’s also about decreasing the number of religious Jews.
Is the charedi community going to respond to this manpower shortage by saying that the mechina students can complete their year of Torah study and secure their religious identity, and charedi students will fill the army’s needs? Of course not.
I cannot think of anything that better demonstrates the hollowness of the charedi claim that their IDF exemptions are about Torah and spirituality being more important to Israel. And this shows how urgently something needs to change. If you care about Torah and Judaism, how can you sit by while the Torah and Judaism of so many is sacrificed due to charedi desires?
Please forward this post to others.
Rationalist Judaism is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.