Elazar Stern
Elazar SternIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Israelis tend to think of students at the Hesder yeshivas as among the best – students, as well as soldiers – in Israel, but according to MK Elazar Stern (Hatnu'a) they are from from that. “The time has come to destroy the myth that the heads of the Hesder yeshivas spread that the soldiers emerging from their institutions were top soldiers sought after by the heads of many IDF fighting units.

“They speak as if their soldiers are the best, and that other soldiers are not up to the tasks the hesder students are, and that the heads of units and divisions fight to enlist them.

“But this is not true,” said Stern, former head of the IDF's Education Division. “They are good soldiers, but not better than others. Many people get them mixed up with graduates of the religious pre-military academies,” many of whom are in demand in IDF fighting units. But that is not the case for Hesder students, whom officers “are not fighting over.”

Hesder soldiers generally are enrolled in yeshiva for three and a half years over a five year period, serving in combat units the rest of the time. In recent weeks, there has been strong pressure on MKs to change the Hesder system, requiring students to serve for 24 months, or eliminating the program altogether.

Last week, said Stern, a large group of Hesder soldiers received their release papers from the army – and according to him, the fact that they no longer “needed” the yeshiva meant that many of them would drop out altogether.

In addition, he said, the traditional “bein hazmanim” three week vacation period in yeshivas was coming up, beginning after Tisha B'Av next week – and Hesder soldiers who were on the yeshiva portion of their service would be getting a “free” three week vacation that soldiers in the regular units were not eligible for.

In response, Rabbi Ze'ev Karov, head of the Hesder Yeshiva Organization, said that Eleazar Stern and his boss in the Hatnu'a party, Tzippy Livni, “constantly attack the religious community, and especially the Hesder yeshivas.

“These attacks have been continuing for a year, and they are doing this because they realize that the Hesder soldiers are among the most influential in the army, and have a huge impact on the world of Torah and on Israeli society in general. If they were an uninfluential group that IDF officers were not interest in, Stern and Livni would not be attacking the like this,” he said.