Israeli postage stamp honoring Hesder, 2003
Israeli postage stamp honoring Hesder, 2003 archive

Two new Hesder yeshivas have been added to the growing list of such institutions, which combine intensive Torah studies with military service. The most recent additions were authorized by Defense Minister Ehud Barak this week and approved by I.D.F. Personnel Director Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern. The I.D.F. Personnel Director, who periodically clashed with Hesder yeshiva heads over matters of principle, is concluding 34 years of military service this week.

One of the new Hesder yeshivas, B'nei David, the pre-military academy in the town of Eli, is well-known for its graduates' success in the I.D.F.'s most prestigious units and for their sacrifices during the 2006 Second Lebanon War. The second fresh addition to the Hesder roster is in Shima'a, south of Hevron. The teachers and students there were evicted from their homes in the Samaria community of Homesh during the 2005 Disengagement.

Other relatively recent additions to the network of the Hesder yeshivas include those of Carmel, also south of Hevron, and Carmiel in the Galilee. Several yeshivas remain on the waiting list for approval, such as those in the southern city of Ashkelon and in the northern city of Afula. There are currently around sixty Hesder yeshivot, spread equally between cities, development towns and smaller communities.

The Hesder yeshiva track in the I.D.F., combining yeshiva studies and army service, was based on the Nachal Brigade program combining agricultural work on collective farms with military service. A Hesder yeshiva student-soldier generally serves for a period of 16 months to two years in uniform, interspersed with up to four years of full-time seminary studies. Most Hesder yeshiva students serve in combat units of the I.D.F. 

Until Maj.-Gen. Stern's term as head of the I.D.F.Personnel Directorate, groups of Hesder soldiers were assigned to homogeneous units within existing brigades. However, Stern sought greater integration of the yeshiva student-soldiers and in 2005 he began limiting the homogeneous Hesder units, which aroused great opposition by leading Hesder rabbis. Eventually, the Hesder yeshiva heads agreed to a distribution of their students in the general army population on condition that at least 12 Hesder soldiers were able to serve together in any single unit. Some homogeneous yeshiva-graduate units still exist, but they have been limited to a great extent by the Personnel Directorate.

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