Religious soldiers (file)
Religious soldiers (file)Flash90

The first hareidi hesder yeshiva has been opened in Jerusalem. The ground-breaking program will combine Torah study with IDF army service.

Last August, the first hareidi mechina, or pre-army preparatory academy, began operating, offering two years of intensive Torah study and preparation for the army, followed by a full three-year service. The hesder program combines military service and Torah study, usually for a period of four to six years. Both options already exist for religious-Zionists, but these two institutions are the first of their kind to cater for hareidi men after they leave high school.

The new hesder track received final approval from the Defense Ministry last week, and has already started with its first batch of inductees. The 16 students will take part in a 48-month-long track of combined army service and religious studies.

Derech Haim Yeshiva, based at the Jerusalem College of Technology (Machon Lev) campus, will run the program. The new program for hareidi students will include 24 months of IDF service, as opposed to 17 months in other programs.

“We see ourselves as a bridge to allow men from the haredi world who want something different to learn Torah and serve the country at the same time," said Rabbi Karmi Gross, an American ex-patriot who led the initiative.

Gross added "we believe there are two ideals; one is sitting and studying Torah and the other is working and learning whenever you can, and both of these are desirable. Showing the beauty of Torah is a sanctification of God’s name and for haredim to go out and contribute towards society can help achieve this.”

The end goal: Cyber Defense Unit

The hesder course will be split into two stages, each lasting two-years, say the program directors.

During the first two-year period, students will engage in religious studies during the day, and take classes about defense during the night.

These night classes were developed by the IDF's Cyber Defense Unit, and over the course of two years will consist of roughly 1,000 hours of study.

In the second stage, students will do their military service in the Cyber Defense Unit. They will remain at their college residences instead of living on an IDF base, thereby enabling them to more easily maintain the hareidi lifestyle and continue religious studies in the evenings.

Mostly children of English-speaking immigrants

Next year, the hesder program hopes to attract 15 to 25 new students.

Of the 16 students currently enrolled in the track, most are the children of immigrants who made aliyah (immigration) from English-speaking countries. Most attended hareidi high schools which culminate in a high-school diploma, unlike many hareidi institutions for high-school aged students.

However, other students on the program are the products of more typical hareidi junior yeshiva institutions.

The new program comes amid various protests by hareidim following the Enlistment Law passed in March, which mandated hareidi enlistment to the IDF.

Hareidi MK Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid), a staunch supporter of the law, remarked that the new program "enables boys to be in yeshiva for four years while also fulfilling their service and learning the skills necessary to enter the work force when they finish their service and yeshiva years."

“I want to praise the defense minister who did not hesitate to grant hesder status to Derech Haim, and I praise Rabbi Gross for taking the initiative and the hard work he has put in to make this dream become a reality,” added Lipman.