Another Quiet Battle Between Army and Religious-Zionist Public

The Chief of Staff says the Nahal Hareidi army battalion is under reconsideration, because too many non-Hareidim - i.e., religious-Zionists - are enlisting in it.

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Hillel Fendel, | updated: 10:42

Speaking this week with the hareidi-religious weekly magazine Mishpaha ("Family"), IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz said, "The Nahal Hareidi, known as the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, was established for a particular purpose, and we are working to make sure it continues to serve that purpose. From an operational standpoint, they are doing excellent work, just like all the other IDF units. It's true that of late, because of a sharp drop in those enlisting from among the target public, soldiers were enlisted who originally were not designated for it. We are currently looking into the matter, and then we will decide how to proceed."

The Nahal Hareidi was established in 1999 as a solution for hareidi-religious youth who, for various reasons, were no longer studying in yeshivot - yet did not want to enlist in regular army units for religious reasons. The venture was widely termed a success, from both the hareidi public's standpoint and militarily. Stationed in the Jordan Valley, the unit has captured and killed terrorists on several occasions.

Over the past 2-3 years, with the increasing presence of female soldiers in combat units, the Nahal Hareidi became attractive to the religious-Zionist public and the Hilltop Youth, popularly known as the Givonim. An increasing number of students, particularly in certain yeshivot, who might otherwise have served in the hesder arrangement [combining five years of Torah study and regular army service], began turning to the Nahal Hareidi as their preferred solution.

Gen. Halutz did not explain why this was unacceptable to the army, but said that the situation will have to be "reviewed."

He also continued the army's recent threatening tone against the hesder arrangement for yeshiva students: "My personal opinion is that yeshiva study is of paramount importance... But at the same time I feel that there is room for a review of whether everyone who is currently in this framework should really be there." Halutz, who assumed his position less than five months ago, revealed that 10% of all those who enlist are hesder students.

Halutz confirmed that the entire issue of homogeneous hesder units is also under consideration - together with that of other homogeneous groups in the army. Earlier this year, IDF Personnel Corp Commander Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern, a yeshiva high school graduate, caused a storm when he announced his intention to dismantle the hesder units and spread their soldiers out in larger battalions.

During the weeks preceding the disengagement/expulsion, Halutz threatened to close the hesder yeshivot on the backdrop of refusals to carry out disengagement-related orders. "We will not tolerate refusers," Halutz said three months ago. "I am targeting my statement mainly at the leaders of the hesder yeshivas and pre-army colleges. You cannot have a dual system and call on people to refuse orders and at the same time enjoy the conditions the IDF offers the hesder yeshivas. This will not go on if this phenomenon becomes common."

In his latest interview, however, Halutz backtracked, but just a smidgeon. "Let's recall that, to the great joy of the Nation of Israel, disengagement refusal was not great. It's true that at first, this subject was of great concern to me. I was sadly surprised by the calls of various people for refusal. However, the young soldiers and officers dealt with the issue in the proper manner. At the same time, though, the yeshiva hesder deans who openly encouraged refusal are being dealt with at present. This is a complex process, and I won't elaborate."

Rabbi Elyakim Levanon of Elon Moreh is one of the two yeshiva heads in question. Asked if he's being "taken care of," he told Arutz-7, "I can tell you that, with G-d's help, everything will be fine. We are always being taken care of, and we are also taking care of things ourselves, and we hope the army will see the results within a couple of years." Asked to elaborate, Rabbi Levanon said, "We have begun an initiative involving turning to religious sectors and coordinating their enlistment in the army not as a single bloc, but as a unified group, with similar goals and thinking. The army will not notice this development until it begins bringing forth fruit."

Asked about Halutz's intention to reconsider the Nahal Hareidi framework, Rabbi Levanon said that his yeshiva only has a few students who choose that option, but "in any event, it sounds foolish to review the Nahal Hareidi merely because fewer hareidim are serving. It was designed to provide a solution, so what difference does it make whether it's hareidim or other religious people who avail themselves of the solution?"