Hareidi Participation in Army On the Rise

The number of hareidi-religious men in the army is increasing: Over 1,000 in the IDF, and nearly another 1,100 in National Service.

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Hillel Fendel, | updated: 13:48

The number of hareidi-religious men in the army is on the rise: Over 1,000 in the IDF, and nearly another 1,100 in National Service.

So reports the “Freedom of Religion and Conscience” organization in its latest report. The group’s Deputy Director, Haaretz reporter Shachar Ilan, submitted the report to MK Yochanan Plesner (Kadima); Plesner chairs the Knesset supervisory committee on the implementation of the Tal Law that outlines the framework for the enlistment of hareidi men.

Ilan says that the number of hareidi men in the army or National Service just two years ago was only 300 to 400, so that the upward trend is significant.

The numbers for 2009 show that of the 1,070 hareidim who did army service, 700 enlisted in non–combat units, another 300 signed up for the combat unit known as Nachal Hareidi, and 50 became teacher-soldiers.

Ilan emphasizes, however, that the 2,100 represents a fraction of the 55,000 young hareidi-religious men aged 18 to 41, who receive a military exemption because they are full time yeshiva students.He told Israel National News that in his opinion the 96% who do not serve are “organized draft evaders.”

“What about the large numbers of secular young men who lie to evade the draft?” Shachar was asked. He admitted that “the number of Israelis who receive exemptions for psychiatric problems is increasing tremendously – up from 2.5 percent of those who do not serve to five percent,” but said that the hareidi public represents an entire sector “that prefers to let other Israelis die for them.” He did not discuss entertainers and other groups that receive exemptions.

When reminded that most soldiers in the IDF are not combat soldiers, and that the proportion of combat-worthy hareidim would be similar, Ilan dismissed that as “pilpul [talmudic dialectics-ed.].”

Some 5,500 hareidi young men received draft exemptions this year, and this number is expected to grow to 13,000 within 10 years.

Ilan protested against categorizing his organization as leftist or anti-religious, although he made a point of noting that “80 percent of [the hareidim] who perform National Service do so in hareidi welfare organizations, turning their service into a form of government-paid support for these associations".

The Director of Freedom of Religion and Conscience, Reform Rabbi Uri Regev, said he was pleased with the increase in hareidi service: “This proves that yeshiva students can certainly do army service just like everyone else… The main lesson to be learned is that the allocations to yeshivot must be reduced, and should be replaced by professional training and job creation for hareidim.”