Hesder students (file)
Hesder students (file) Flash 90

The Hesder Yeshiva Association on Thursday reported that the number of students in its institutions grew at the beginning of the academic year. As of the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul, when the new yeshiva sessions begin, the number of students in Hesder yeshivas grew by 5%.

In the Hesder program, students combine Torah study with IDF service. The program includes 17 to 24 months of army service over a 5 or 6 year period, depending on the yeshiva. Hesder students generally account for many of the high-ranking soldiers and officers in combat units, such as Golani soldier and tank units.

This year, the number of students registered in Hesder yeshivas reached 1,770, 5% more than in Elul last year. According to Rabbi Ze'ev Karov, head of the Association, “the houses of study are growing and filling with students who see the importance of Torah study on a serious level. The scenes of yeshiva students fighting over the summer in Operation Protective Edge have no doubt inspired many to join us. The soldiers who ferociously fought to protect the lives of Israelis are bringing their considerable strength and powers and applying them to Torah study,” he said.

The government has been trying to cut the budgets of Hesder yeshivas, on the complaint that students do not serve the full 36 month service term that soldiers in non-Hesder units serve. Earlier this year, defense officials, including Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, demanded that students serve for at least 24 months, while MK Elazar Stern (Hatnu'a) claimed that it was “time 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 are good soldiers, but not better than others.”

Rabbi Karov said that “despite the attempts to defame the Hesder yeshivas on the part of certain politicians, the fact that so many students came this year proves that people and youth can recognize the truth, in a place where they prepare to take responsibility for the spiritual future of the country, without surrendering on the ideal of defending the country as IDF soldiers.

Those who seek to damage the yeshivas will not succeed,” he said. “The Jewish people need the Torah and love of the land that we impart. We can see the importance of this in the recently concluded battle.”