Every year, while thousands of Israeli 18-year-olds enlist in the IDF, others defer their service in order to spend a year studying in mechina programs – pre-army institutes that help their students prepare to do the best they can during their years in the military.
This year, 3,300 young men and women will be studying in 46 mechina programs. Twenty-two of the programs are aimed at serving the religiously observant Jewish population, combining an intense program of physical training and Torah study.
Until this year, all religious mechinot have been affiliated with the religious-Zionist community. Now, for the first time, there will be a mechina designed specifically for the hareidi-religious community. The new program has been named Hararei Tzion (The Mountains of Zion), and sits beside the town of Mesoa in the Jordan Valley.
IDF enlistment remains relatively low in the hareidi community, where many believe that the religious obligation to study Torah full-time takes precedence over military service.
However, a growing number of young hareidi men have been enlisting by choice. There have even been reports that the IDF has faced the “problem” of too many hareidi reservists reporting for duty – more than can fit in the one battalion that abides by hareidi religious norms.
Mechina head Rabbi Yedidya Akerman says he aims to help his young students prepare for the army physically, mentally and spiritually.
At ages 17-18, the program’s students will be slightly younger than their counterparts in other mechina programs. This is because high school yeshivas in the hareidi community normally finish one year before high schools elsewhere in Israel, with 11th-grade students going on to full-time Torah study rather than a fourth high school year.