Eighteen years ago we established the Nahal Haredi - the "Netzach Yehuda" Battalion. The first platoon consisted of 31 fighters - trailblazers who stood at the head of the camp and dared to join the IDF against their families wishes.
The beginning was not easy. I went to get the blessing of great rabbis who concurred: "Proceed and be successful". Concurrently the decision was adopted that whoever learns Torah - should learn and reinforce us in the Torah of Israel. Those who do not learn should join, contribute to military service, and later be integrated into the civilian work force.
The rabbis to whom I turned blessed me, some openly and some not openly, for they understood that the army can be a solution for many of the boys who are not learning.
It was decided in coordination with the rabbis that the Israel Defense Forces would conform to four requirements: Battalion food provided to those serving would be glatt kosher, girls are not to serve in the battalion, every day a lesson will be given by volunteer rabbis to sustain the soldiers in their faith and their spiritual path, and that the battalion will maintain its haredi character.
All this in order not to disconnect the recruits from the culture in which they were raised.
It should be understood that the haredi boy who decides to enlist undergoes some difficult experiences - both at home, in the extended family, and the community in which he lives. In many cases there is resistance to his way, he does not get the support of his family, and he feels that he is going into the unknown.
The first company paved the way for introducing haredi youth into the army. Since its establishment until today more than 9,000 fighters of the haredi public passed through the "Nahal" track.
The IDF later opened additional recruitment options - Air Force, logistics, engineering corps, intelligence, and infantry - Givati and Paratroopers. The haredi soldier's success was also proven in these programs.
The rabbis who accompany the Netzach Yehuda Battalion do their holy work day and night. They give lessons and act as an attentive ear for all the soldier's problems, large and small. To me, they are true heroes, they firmly believe that military service is the right solution for those boys to accustom them to contributing and giving - and later, establishing a religious Jewish home that combines learning with action.
It should be understood that these rabbis have and continue to withstand enormous pressures from the part of the haredi community that opposes conscription.
Over the years they have suffered humiliation, verbal and physical alike. Garbage carts have been thrown at their homes, they were insulted, their children beaten and the harassment they suffered in the synagogue was formidable and onerous. Just this week, a rabbi who accompanies Nahal Brigade soldiers with devotion was again attacked.
The battalion has proven itself above and beyond in the army, both in training and operational activities in the Jordan Valley, Jenin, the Golan Heights, and in the Binyamin region. The battalion is considered the leading battalion in the Kfir Brigade and was highly acclaimed.
It is not a battalion like all other battalions. The "Nahal" has become a symbol. It acts as a bridge between religious and secular - and its men have proved it is possible to combine military service with the haredi lifestyle and character, while giving legitimacy to those who learn.
Recognition of haredi conscription's legitimacy within the community is reflected in soldier's success in finding suitable matches. Today soldiers can be found who served in the battalion and married granddaughters of Hasidic leaders. It is marvelous to see the soldiers' families maintain the orthodox religious lifestyle - and the children who take pride that their father served in the army and supports his family with dignity. These facts prove the success of the path.
Moreover, in recent years the battalion accepted many new immigrants from France, USA, Belgium, England, and other places - who want to serve in the army but also maintain their orthodox character. For these reasons one should support the battalion and grant it legitimacy in the haredi public.
I wish to turn on the pages of this website to Rabbi Auerbach and his followers, as well as all those haredi segments joining in their vehement and radical and contempt of haredi soldiers serving in the IDF, and say: When you sit for a Shabbat meal with your family, or learn Torah and nourish yourselves, remember that many haredi youth sitting in stake-outs, outposts, ambushes, and patrols, performing their activities in order to allow you to continue to eat, to continue to learn.
I appeal to the leaders, rabbis, as well as haredi Knesset members and secularists alike - to behave in the way of the Torah of Israel - with respect, mutual dialogue, and understanding, while recognizing the right of our cause and of love for Israel. Our strength is our unity.
Anyone who is learning shall learn, and those who aren't learning - I urge you to join the Netzach Yehuda battalion, or other paths offered haredi recruits by the IDF - the blend of the book and the sword, believing in the justness of the cause and the contribution to the State and People of Israel according to the Torah of Israel.
Gen. (res) Yehuda Duvedevani is the founder of the Givati Brigade and "Netzach Yehuda" Battalion.