A groundbreaking study has found that the percentage of IDF captains who were raised in religious homes has shot up dramatically over the past 20 years. While only 2.5% of IDF captains were from religious homes in 1990, by 2007 that number was up to 31.4%.
In the absence of data on individual soldiers' religious observance, the study looked at the high schools that IDF captains had attended to measure their religiosity. Those who attended religious high schools were marked as religious, while those who had not were not, regardless of current religious observance. The study actually shows the religious background of the soldiers as a motivating factor and not their present religious state, as it misses those who became religious after high school as well as those who are not observant despite attending a religious high school.
The study found that until 1992, there were very few IDF captains from religious homes. Between the years 1993 and 2000, the number of religious captains shot up from 2.5% to 15.5%. After 2000 the numbers increased dramatically, and from 2001, there was no year in which less than 22.5% of captains were from a religious background.
The highest number of religious captains was recorded in 2007, when 31.4% were from religious homes.
The number of religious youth who went on to serve as IDF captains not only did not drop after the 2005 Disengagement, which led to some alienation among religious-Zionist youths, but actually rose, the study found.
In the author's estimation, much of the credit for the sharp increase in the number of religious soldiers reaching the rank of captain goes to the pre-army preparatory programs (mechinot) established in the religious community beginning in the late 1980s. The programs aim to teach young men Torah, Zionist values, and the value of army service. In mechinot, students study Torah for a year after graduating high school and then go on to regular army service.
Among mechina graduates, 80% go on to serve as combat soldiers, compared to 40% among soldiers as a whole. 20-25% of mechina graduates eventually become captains, compared to 7-9% of all soldiers.
The IDF has traditionally avoided publishing information about the religiosity of soldiers, saying it does not gather that information. The new study, which was published in part in Haaretz, was made possible after IDF officials agreed to release some classified data gathered by the Manpower division.
The author of the study, himself an IDF captain, was granted access to the data in order to complete a research project necessary for his degree in national security. His name was not released for publication.Maa