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Jerusalem - Religious Zionism At The Forefront Of The IDF

Published on: January 18, 2009 10:05 PM
By: Jpost By MATTHEW WAGNER
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Israeli soldiers recite morning prayers after leaving the Gaza Strip into Israel Sunday, Jan. 18, 2009. [ap]Israeli soldiers recite morning prayers after leaving the Gaza Strip into Israel Sunday, Jan. 18, 2009. [ap]

Jerusalem - Four out of the ten soldiers killed in Operation Cast Lead were religious Zionist, crocheted-kippa-wearing combat soldiers. This unfortunate fact could be dismissed as a sad coincidence, however, that is not the case.

Not only were religious Zionists (who make up between 10 percent and 15% of the population) disproportionately represented among the IDF’s casualties, but also among combat officers, both in career service and in the reserves.

Hundreds of Hesder students such as Dvir Immanueloff, from the Netivot Yeshiva, who was killed in the first week of fighting, served in Gaza. There were also many religious Zionist young men like Nitai Stern, another casualty, who enlisted immediately after high school.

More significantly, dozens of the low to mid-level officers who served in Gaza were graduates of pre-military yeshiva academies. One such officer was Yoni Netanel, who studied for three years at Bnei David Yeshiva Academy on Eli, a settlement in Samaria, and who was killed in Gaza by friendly fire.

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Others, like Dagan Vartman, enlisted in the IDF after devoting several years to Torah study at Yeshivat Har Hamor.

In the most recent graduation from Bahad 1, the officers’ training base, about half were religious Zionists, according to a former training officer. Even more conservative estimates, of past graduations from Bahad 1, claim that between 30% and 40% of the graduates were religious.

In recent years, military sociologists such as Dr. Yigal Levi of the Open University, Professor Stuart Cohen of Bar Ilan University and journalists such as Ofer Shelach, who in 2003 wrote The Israeli Army: A Radical Proposal [Hamagash Vehakesef in Hebrew], have noted the dramatic changes in the composition of the IDF.

The basic conclusion is that for a long time now the IDF has ceased to be the “People’s Army” envisioned by the state’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.

Rather, the IDF’s combat units are disproportionately manned by members of what once was considered the socioeconomic periphery: residents of development towns, immigrants from the former Soviet Union or their children, and Druse.

But undoubtedly, the most dramatic change has been among religious Zionists. And one of the most dramatic catalysts of this transformation has been the creation of the religious pre-military academies.

Until the late 1980s, modern religious young men had two choices: enlist in the IDF immediately after high school along with tens of thousands of secular young men, or join one of a handful of Hesder Yeshivot that mix Torah learning with a shortened army service.

A large percentage of religious Zionist men who chose to enter the IDF without first learning in a yeshiva ended up abandoning their religious lifestyles. Perhaps it was the secular atmosphere in the army barracks or the feeling of inadequacy in the face of the Ashkenazi, secular elite that dominated the IDF’s command that caused impressionable young religious Zionist men to remove their kippot and hide the fact that they came from Orthodox homes, or maybe it was the fact that these religious men received little or no backing from rabbinic leaders.

Meanwhile, Hesder Yeshiva students, who often served in religious-only platoons, managed to maintain their religious adherence. They were highly motivated and served primarily in combat units, especially in tank battalions. And they received ample backing from rabbis and spiritual leaders. But since their military term was shortened to allow them to devote more time to Torah study, they could not become officers.

In the mid-1980s Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amram Mitzna, then-OC Central Commander, who had been impressed by the high level of morale and idealism among religious Zionist soldiers, set in motion the establishment of religious pre-military academies.

Mitzna encouraged Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, who served at the time as Battalion Commander under Mitzna, to create a framework that encouraged religious Zionist men to serve full military service and advance to officers’ training courses.

Bnei David, the first pre-military academy, was created in 1988 and was headed by Levinstein and Rabbi Eli Sadan. Today there are about a dozen religious pre-military academies and about ten secular ones.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post last week, Sadan told how he had faced opposition from many leading religious Zionist rabbis. These rabbis actually tried to torpedo Bnei David before it was established, fearing that religious Zionists would abandon the Hesder Yeshivot, thus undermining Torah scholarship.

“It was similar to the way haredi rabbis first reacted to the secular Zionist movement,” said Sadan. “They had difficulty dealing with the idea of coming out of galut [exile]. But today heads of yeshivot who opposed me at the time are proud that many of their graduates are high-ranking officers,” he added.

Sadan anchored military service in the religious thought of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook, the spiritual founding father of religious Zionism.

“I’d say that in the last 15 or 16 years we’ve created this new norm, this new culture. We managed to create an atmosphere among people that it is something very ‘in’ to serve in the army, that it is something very important and good,” he said.

“People who dedicate themselves to protecting the state should be appreciated and honored and respected. A guy who decides to become a career officer in a combat unit should not feel that he is swimming against the stream. Rather the opposite should be true. He should feel that all his education, all his friends, his parents, everyone is very supportive.

“We have managed to create a cultural environment in our society [religious Zionists] that puts at the top of our priorities dedication to the nation and to army service. And we do this out of a strong religious faith based on a Torah perspective of a spiritual purity.”



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Read Comments (21)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Jan 18, 2009 at 11:53 PM Anonymous Says:

The haredi rabbonim should rethink their opposition to military service for religious boys and girls....if they live in EY, then their should be some cumpulsory service if they are exempted from the draft. Even if they have to do manual labor, it would still be some contribution rather than just sitting and learning and letting someone else risk their lives. There is no prohibition al daas torah to not fight to protect klal yisroel.

2

 Jan 19, 2009 at 12:40 AM Rachael Says:

Reply to #1  
Anonymous Says:

The haredi rabbonim should rethink their opposition to military service for religious boys and girls....if they live in EY, then their should be some cumpulsory service if they are exempted from the draft. Even if they have to do manual labor, it would still be some contribution rather than just sitting and learning and letting someone else risk their lives. There is no prohibition al daas torah to not fight to protect klal yisroel.

i agree! and these heroes have shown us that you can do both- learn and fight! Dagan Vartman zlb is my neighbor here in Maale Michmas- and during the shiva his parents talked about how, whenever he was home, he would stay up all night learning! we have lost a real gibor and tzadik...

3

 Jan 19, 2009 at 12:31 AM esther Says:

the level of mesirus nefesh these yidden have for Eretz Yisroel and Am Yisroel is so beyond the rest of us.Hashem should protect them .Moshiach should come now and the fallen soldiers be reunited with their families.

4

 Jan 19, 2009 at 12:21 AM robroy560 Says:

Well said #1. Why can't chareidi women help out in the kitchen and laundry at the bases? Or they could learn computers. Chareidi men could learn valuable skills with their hands, such as mechanics.

5

 Jan 19, 2009 at 12:08 AM ezras nashim Says:

giborei chayil

6

 Jan 18, 2009 at 11:45 PM Pashuteh Yid Says:

These boys are the cream of the crop.

7

 Jan 19, 2009 at 07:55 AM Shlomo Zalman Says:

Eretz Yisrael is not the USA durng the Vietnam era when I and my buddies were enrolled in Netzach Yisrael on Eastern Parkway to retain our 2s Classification

8

 Jan 19, 2009 at 09:13 AM HolyMoe Says:

These frum soldiers are the biggest Tzadikim in Klal Yisroel.
In their Zcus alone mishiach should come already.

9

 Jan 19, 2009 at 10:53 AM Anonymous Says:

As Rabbi Emmanuel Rackman z"tl once said, "... these boys are doing G-d's work by serving in the IDF and are protecting the nation by learning Torah."

10

 Jan 19, 2009 at 12:45 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #1  
Anonymous Says:

The haredi rabbonim should rethink their opposition to military service for religious boys and girls....if they live in EY, then their should be some cumpulsory service if they are exempted from the draft. Even if they have to do manual labor, it would still be some contribution rather than just sitting and learning and letting someone else risk their lives. There is no prohibition al daas torah to not fight to protect klal yisroel.

ever heard of nachal charedi?

11

 Jan 19, 2009 at 02:12 PM Roman Says:

Reply to #6  
Pashuteh Yid Says:

These boys are the cream of the crop.

well said.

Charedim are getting into the army slowly. Nachal Haredi was designed to attract a small contingent of Haredi Yeshiva dropouts, but instead it exploded and is huge now. I predict with the current economic situation, much more haredi yeshiva men will join the army.

12

 Jan 19, 2009 at 04:33 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #10  
Anonymous Says:

ever heard of nachal charedi?

Yes, but most haredi never did.

13

 Jan 19, 2009 at 04:31 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #7  
Shlomo Zalman Says:

Eretz Yisrael is not the USA durng the Vietnam era when I and my buddies were enrolled in Netzach Yisrael on Eastern Parkway to retain our 2s Classification

I went there too, it was a great hangout, unfortunetly the war was over and so were they.

14

 Jan 19, 2009 at 10:15 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #1  
Anonymous Says:

The haredi rabbonim should rethink their opposition to military service for religious boys and girls....if they live in EY, then their should be some cumpulsory service if they are exempted from the draft. Even if they have to do manual labor, it would still be some contribution rather than just sitting and learning and letting someone else risk their lives. There is no prohibition al daas torah to not fight to protect klal yisroel.

I agree 100%!!! If only the chareidi world looked out of our self imposed insular world and realised our (justified perceived) parasitical actions are not projecting a positive light to the secular Yidden. In other words: The opposite of a kiddush Hashem.

Why shouldn't we share the burden of defence?

Why should we give the secular yidden an excuse for their dislike of chareidim?

As a charedi, I look at the Religious Zionist Jewish soldiers and can't help thinking: That is what a Yid with his priorities strait looks like.

15

 Jan 19, 2009 at 11:18 PM Milhouse Says:

We do share the burden of defense, by learning. Those who are not learning full time should takeh go to the army, and generally do.

16

 Jan 19, 2009 at 10:28 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #13  
Anonymous Says:

I went there too, it was a great hangout, unfortunetly the war was over and so were they.

Some of the guys went on to be pretty big talmidai chachomim.

17

 Jan 20, 2009 at 09:29 AM Anonymous Says:

#9 - What the heck is ztz"l doing after the name Rackman???

18

 Jan 20, 2009 at 12:27 PM yeshiva Says:

throughout history Jews had an army and had people fighting our wars on another level. on a spiritual level. obviously we need an active army full of noble young men like those who we have r"l lost. however anyone who denies our need for people who sit and learn and pray all day, is ignorant of our history, our way of fighting, and our faith in general. no idf commander will ever tell u that we need every single guy out there to serve. our boys are efficient, well trained, and heroic fighters. but let us never forget that as Jews we wage spiritual battles as well. without the boys sitting learning, the ones fighting can't do their job and vice verca. we all need eachother

19

 Jan 20, 2009 at 05:50 PM Asher Says:

Reply to #1  
Anonymous Says:

The haredi rabbonim should rethink their opposition to military service for religious boys and girls....if they live in EY, then their should be some cumpulsory service if they are exempted from the draft. Even if they have to do manual labor, it would still be some contribution rather than just sitting and learning and letting someone else risk their lives. There is no prohibition al daas torah to not fight to protect klal yisroel.

You are a classic "Daas Balei Batim- Hefech Daas Torah", As you so adequately implore & insinuate by your foolish words. WHAT A NEBACH !!!

20

 Jan 20, 2009 at 07:35 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #18  
yeshiva Says:

throughout history Jews had an army and had people fighting our wars on another level. on a spiritual level. obviously we need an active army full of noble young men like those who we have r"l lost. however anyone who denies our need for people who sit and learn and pray all day, is ignorant of our history, our way of fighting, and our faith in general. no idf commander will ever tell u that we need every single guy out there to serve. our boys are efficient, well trained, and heroic fighters. but let us never forget that as Jews we wage spiritual battles as well. without the boys sitting learning, the ones fighting can't do their job and vice verca. we all need eachother

How many secular Israelis do you think are convinced of genuineness of this argument?

Where in Shulchan Oruch or Shas do you even find such a concept, that people learning Torah are exempt from the burden of defending the country? And are exempt from putting their life in danger for the nation?

In the times of Tanach do we find that yidden learning Torah were exempt from fighting in a war?

On the contrary! The Torah says explicitly that those yidden who fear that they have sinned should not fight. Rather the fighters were the "bnei Torah" the tzadikim who were free from sin. They would get up from their learning and work and go to war.

21

 Jan 21, 2009 at 12:50 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #18  
yeshiva Says:

throughout history Jews had an army and had people fighting our wars on another level. on a spiritual level. obviously we need an active army full of noble young men like those who we have r"l lost. however anyone who denies our need for people who sit and learn and pray all day, is ignorant of our history, our way of fighting, and our faith in general. no idf commander will ever tell u that we need every single guy out there to serve. our boys are efficient, well trained, and heroic fighters. but let us never forget that as Jews we wage spiritual battles as well. without the boys sitting learning, the ones fighting can't do their job and vice verca. we all need eachother

What ever happened to 'yofeh torah im derech eretz'? Why didn't the mishna say 'yofeh torah im derech eretz unless you only want to learn, then you have a 'right' to do nothing else'?

22

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