The Shachar program for enlistment of hareidi-religious men to the IDF has seen a sharp rise in popularity in the three years since it began: from 40 hareidi conscripts in 2007, to 200 the next year, to 400 in 2009.
The number of hareidi men expected to join the IDF through the program is expected to reach 1,000 this calendar year.
The Shachar program is a joint initiative of the IDF and JDC-Israel. Unlike the Nachal Hareidi combat program, it offers technological training and service in the Air Force and Technology Branch.
"Enlistment to the military is now an attractive option for hareidi men,” a JDC official said. “It enables them to acquire a profession and work experience through the army, while adhering to their culture, religious needs and the strict norms of the hareidi sector.”
Candidates undergo “rigorous selection,” the JDC official said, and then sign up for two or three years' service, sometimes longer. They undergo basic training and are trained professionally as software inspectors, programmers, technicians, mechanics and more.
"In recent years there has been a considerable rise in the number of hareidi men willing to go out and work for a living, mostly due to financial hardship and the shortage of Torah-related jobs,” the JDC official said. “Military service makes it possible to fill educational gaps and acquire a profession that will help them join the workforce successfully.”
Many Hareidi men strive for a life of Torah learning. This often involves living off of meager study stipends from the government or donors, and dependence on their wives' incomes.