Interview with My Son on Religious Accommodations in the Hesder Army Program

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army ceremony in southern Israel
A while back on Twitter I got into a conversation about why most Haredim don’t go into the army. Intermingling of the sexes was mentioned as one reason, and questions came up about the conditions of hesder students. My son E., who entered a hesder platoon last April, agreed to answer a few questions.

Hesder means “arrangement.” It was designed as a way to allow religious men to enter the army under conditions that make it easier to remain religiously observant, and learn in yeshiva as well.

Throughout the interview E. refers to the hesder students as beinishim, an acronym of bnei yeshiva or yeshiva students.

What is the hesder program? E: Beinishim (hesder students) serve for 1 year and 4 months, and for another four months if they take an officer’s course. They spend at least a year in yeshiva before enlisting, and another two years learning after their army service. The hesder program is five years long. You can’t start to work or study until the five years are finished, except for part-time jobs on weekends and vacation.

Do the beinishim enter the army as a unit? E: There are two types of infantry platoons: machlakot meuravot (mixed platoons) and machlakot beinish (hesder platoons). A pluga, or company, consists of three platoons.

Beinishim can belong to two different types of companies:

1. All three platoons in the company are mixed. Each platoon contains about ten beinishim and 20 other male soldiers. The idea is that there is a minyan (quorum) for prayers.

2. One of the platoons contains only beinishim. Then the other two platoons in the company will not contain any beinishim.

I serve in a combat, non-infantry platoon. We are now training with a whole company of beinishim. After training, the platoons will all be mixed, but each one will contain a group of beinishim.

What accommodations are made for beinishim? E: The rules of the army apply to all soldiers who declare themselves religious, no matter where they serve: They get time for prayers three times daily, kosher food, and they can’t be asked to do non-emergency tasks on Shabbat. Everyone can do kitchen and guard duty.

If you are part of a beinish platoon, you plan your schedule around prayer times. But if you are in a mixed platoon, it’s more complicated. In either type of platoon you may need to fight to get your davening (prayer) time. But in some ways, a mixed platoon has less of a problem with davening times—it’s ten people out of 30 so the tasks can still be accomplished.

What about contact with women? E: Beinishim live on bases with female soldiers, and you see women in the dining room as well. There is opportunity but no need for contact except for professionals like doctors and mashakiot tash*, who are always women. The army does encourage you to get friendly with the others on your base.

In some training bases, women don’t enter the army on the same recruitment schedule as beinishim. This is especially true where there are mixed platoons of beinishim and other male soldiers. If you’re not a beinish you could have women in your platoon. Beinishim don’t have female officers, but they have females training them as long as it’s not for physical exercise. I’m okay with it.

There could be female officers or trainers in the other non-beinish platoons in your company.

Many people ask why these idealistic young men only serve for a year plus, when others serve for three years. There is definitely a push, both within and without, to increase the length of time served by hesder students. However, the question remains as to whether demanding more of hesder students will push some of them to enroll in a yeshiva gevohah and follow the haredi track of serving even less or not at all. While hesder soldiers do serve a shorter time, they have a higher rate of reserve duty and usually make up the time later.

*Mashakiot tash meet regularly with soldiers to make sure that everything is okay. My boys tell me they are always asking whether their parents are divorced, in debt, etc.

Feel free to ask questions and if I can’t answer, I’ll pass them on to my son. But you can skip the wisecracks about our financial and marital status. :)

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Comments

  1. Very educational post (at least for me). Thanks for sharing all this information.
    Ilana-Davita recently posted..Murakami in VersaillesMy Profile

  2. Mashakiot tash are like social workers which is why they ask those questions. You don’t want to have soldiers with lots of problems at home or personal problems feeling that they are being asked to make sacrifices for the common good when they themselves have to deal with their issues alone.
    Risa recently posted..Bright and early- Haveil Havalim!My Profile

  3. We are huge fans of the Hesder program, and I think it is one of the more successful efforts by the government for all of klal Yisrael to live together. Thank you so much for doing this interview! We would like to know more. Please ask him how often he is asked about religion by non-religious soldiers, and whether he wishes his hesder program had “trained” him more to answer them, if he does get them.

    Yasher Koach again!

  4. Great post! Please thank your son for sharing this information.

    I’m curious why you mention “infantry platoons” specifically – if your son isn’t in the Infantry? Or does he mean something else when he says that he’s in a “combat, non-infantry platoon“? Does it work the same way in, for instance, the Armored Corps?
    Mrs. S. recently posted..Around the J-BlogosphereMy Profile

    • Mrs. S., I’ll have to ask him if there is a reason he specified that. Good question.

    • Mrs. S., my son heard that the armored corps is the worst in terms of keeping beinishim together–sometimes they don’t get a minyan. The conditions he described, with at least ten beinishim in a platoon, doesn’t always apply to combat but non-infantry companies.

      • That’s very interesting that each branch of the IDF has such a different approach to this issue.

        Thanks for getting back to me, and Shabbat Shalom to you and your family!
        Mrs. S. recently posted..Kol oto halaylahMy Profile

  5. My husband’s main problem with the army when he served was the bittul zman (waste of time), like sweeping the base that was located on the beach in Gaza (aka, it was full of sand again within the hour) in stead of letting them sleep or study. I would understand this argument a lot more from the chareidim than the ones they always seem to mention.
    Nasch recently posted..Chanuka EnlightenmentMy Profile

  6. First, thanks so much for having E. comment on his experiences.

    I worked within a Hesder so the positives were visible from my end before or after service, but this was a rare glimpse to see the during service attitude. Comparing a normal 18yo recruit and someone who has prepared in a Hesder for a year and who enters with a peer group reveals a world of difference in purpose and maturity. I often heard students say that the year in yeshiva prepared them to deal with the mixed platoons and interaction with totally secular population better while in the army.

    You mentioned the shortened service time as well as the usually longer reserve but wanted to add that in my experience Hesder students tend to volunteer during their studies in MDA and civil guard at much higher rates as well. In fact, just a year ago the national plan for “first defense” in emergency situations was suggested to be that Hesder students would be called immediately to act as civil guard while the army organizes.

    Thanks again for the interview to mother and son.

  7. “they can’t be asked to do non-emergency tasks on Shabbat except for kitchen and guard duty”

    why the heter for kitchen duty?
    Abba’s Rantings recently posted..Preventing Abuse- Yeshivah vs Public SchoolMy Profile

  8. Abba’s Rantings:
    Most folks I know do “kitchen duty” on Shabbat even in civilian life ;)
    Why do you think that needs a special heter for the army?
    Risa recently posted..Bright and early- Haveil Havalim!My Profile

  9. Thanks for this info. I have little kids (and girls at that) but I’m always curious about how these things work. I especially wonder if they make similar accommodations for religious girls in the army.
    RE the extra maturity gained by a year in yeshiva – many non hesder kids I know do a year in mechina, of which there are religious, secular, and mixed mechinot. It’s a gap year program and I’ve always heard great things about it. The kids come out a bit more mature, without having to commit to hesder.
    Don’t mean to hijack the topic, but I’ve been hearing a lot of ads on the radio lately for sherut leumi (ntnl service). Used to be just something for religious girls, but I wonder if its becoming more common for the secular – including boys.
    I think it’d be a viable option for haredim too, as there are plenty of volunteer spots in haredi communities, hospitals, educational institutions, etc, where the boys could really contribute.

    • Sorry to jump in but the popularity of doing a service year in Shirut Leumi has grown widely in the many sectors, even Arab, and can be really beneficial within a community. But I think as enlistment in secular population declines (while religious enlistment grows), there is a new important niche that could be filled by Shirut Leumi. As for Haredi boys contributing through Shirut Leumi, I wonder if you wouldn’t have to do a complete facelift on the system to take away the stigma of being “a girl thing” within the community. But in general, I think you’re totally right about any sort of gap year preparation before army or what have you, I am just partial to options that include service or study instead of travel.

      Sidenote: my service year work was in conjunction with the army… it was more like having enlisted than doing a service year. But if you’ve ridden a train on any given Thursday in the past few years, I would bet you’d see a lot more military skirts than in prior years. It seems the options for religious girls are growing and becoming more realistic as well.
      Sara recently posted..Barn Toy BoxMy Profile

  10. Do not forget the girls!

    Aluma is there to support religious girls who serve in the army.

  11. Two quick posts that have links within:

    First contains a link in Hebrew to a news report about the growth of Shirut Leumi in the Arab sector

    http://sarainakko.blogspot.com/2010/02/shirut-leumi-national-service-in-arab.html

    Next one has a link leading to a post about Hesder’s role during emergency.

    http://sarainakko.blogspot.com/2010/02/hesder-obligation-plan-for-crisis.html
    Sara recently posted..Barn Toy BoxMy Profile

  12. thanks, this was an interesting piece. Can someone with a low “profil” (health rating) do hesder? From this description it sounds like it’s only combat units.
    LeahGG recently posted..Conversations at 6amMy Profile

    • Leah, there are about 120 spots for non-combat hesderniks.

    • Yes they can. My son was supposed to do hesder in Golani. 2 days before he started, his final medical discovered (thank G-d!) a problem with his heart. He was promptly moved to a non-combat job, much to his dismay. But he continued on with it and with his hesder to the end. He was not overly happy with his boring desk job but he did do it.

      Plus – he was treated with top-class medical treatment for his heart problem during his service, and ended up as a “new improved” version of himself. :-)

  13. Is hesder the default for religiosly observant young men who want to serve? Can you explain the difference in the choice of hesder vs. just saying you’re religious? Basically, as a religious person, what are the choices?

    I like the idea that religious people have options for army service, since it is such a central part of culture and forming life-long friendships (not to mention valuable networking!) My understanding is that there are other reasons that hareidim are against army service and sherut leumi (National service for girls, like volunteering) that go beyond what actually happens (or doesn’t) during service time. It seems to be based on things the Chazon Ish said and the very fact mandatory army service is something that came from the secular ruling population.
    Yosefa recently posted..Our Olive Adventure Part 2- Pit and SoakMy Profile

    • Yosefa, good question. To enlist via hesder, you have to attend one of the hesder yeshivot. You can’t do it on your own. Also, the army sets aside a number of spots in certain corps, and this varies from year to year. And some jobs require more training so they aren’t open to hesder at all. There are many reasons why a religious young man would not choose hesder.

    • Yosefa, hesder is not necessarily the default for religious boys but it’s certainly one of the popular options. Another option, which my second son chose, is to attend a Mechina (a pre-military academy) for a year, or sometimes more, and then to enlist for the full 3 years. Mechinot have become very popular because on the one hand they prepare the boys physically and mentally for the rigours of the army, and they also prepare them religiously to cope with a completely different environment to that which they are used to from home and yeshiva high school. Also, many boys wish to serve the full 3 years, which is not an option with hesder.

      There is also the Atuda program – where the army pays for the boys to study at university and they then repay the army by serving an additional 2 years over and above the 3 years’ conscription. This is not davka for religious boys, but is a very good option for the academic types.

      Perhaps Mom in Israel should write an article about all the various types of army service!

      • In the past year the army has come to agreements with several separate Yeshivot to allow longer service that would not take away from yeshiva time studying as it is a drawback for some would be Hesder student/soldiers.

        Originally they offered 2 & 2 years split between study and service but the individual Yeshivot are now able to lengthen their overall programs to 6 years to accommodate their full study program as well as full army service. But again, this is only in the past year and only a few Yeshivaot have this agreement for the time being. Hopefully it will become more available with initial success.
        Sara recently posted..Barn Toy BoxMy Profile

  14. I think the blanket statement “haredim don’t go in the army” is a bit off. There may be a low enlistment rate, but Nachal Haredi is full at brigade strength! (And the IDF is “considering” opening a 2nd charedi brigade.”)

    My charedi DAUGHTER is in the IDF, and my charedi son is going into Nachal Charedi this coming summer (G-d willing), and it took some protexia to get him a spot. (Otherwise we would indeed have pushed for an exemption.)

    Hesder is a wonderful accomodation program for national religious young men. The army has not, until recently, begun to do the same for charedi young men. Just in the past 1 year they opened 3 new programs for charedim (an air force mechanics program, an army intelligence program, and I forget the third…but each is for only around 200 men). And as I mentioned Nachal Charedi is 5 years old but at capacity and they haven’t (yet) created new units for the number of charedi candidates.

    The army could have done this 10 years ago.
    Akiva recently posted..What Might Happen NowMy Profile

  15. This is great – I should print this out and save it for Yaakov. Do you think much will change in 14 years? :)

  16. Someone asked if Hesder is the default.
    Many young men we know, go to Yehisva gavoha for any amount of time from 1-4+ years and then go into the army either for a full service of 3 years, or by the Tal Law (originally for haredim- but also used by them), by which they enlist for a year and 2 (or 4) months, or Hesder Mercaz (9? months).

    There have slowly began to be more zionist yeshivot Gevohot.

    The idea of the hesder, was the importance of the torah learning.

    There are various variations now, including a possibilty to start army service earlier for boys who intend to get married (e.g. they already have a girlfriend), or possiblity to leave the program earlier, if they have got married.

    re:” national service for boys”. I know of a few religious boys who had health problems (e.g. diatbetes) and the army did not want them, so they did national service.

    Another option for religious Zionist boys, has also began to be the Nahal Haredi.

  17. My eldest son is in Hesder. He is now back in Yeshiva, having served 20 months in the army, as he became a commander.

    My second son is in a mixed mechina (boys/girs, religious/non-religious) and will serve in the army for 3 years.

    Each boy is convinced, but utterly, that his way is right and the other wrong. This makes for very interesting Shabbat table conversation.

  18. AKIVA:

    ““haredim don’t go in the army” is a bit off. There may be a low enlistment rate, but Nachal Haredi is full at brigade strength!”

    nahal haredi is a misnomer. unless things have changed, the majority are DL/chardal and not haredi in the conventional sense.

    but on the topic of religious boys in the army, do they still have bene akiva garinim (of course for boys and girls) in nahal? i assume not?

    MII:

    “I think he was kidding”

    i wasn’t. i thought that he was mentioning kitchen duty specifically because it invoved some type of melacha but that they still can do it. otherwise i wouldn’t have thought it worthy of note in this context.

    there is also a “shiluv” yeshivah in maale gilboa (there was another one on ein tzurim that closed) that mixes 3 years army and two year yeshivah. started because kibbutz hadati didn’t let its boys go to hesder and also popular with boys who wanted the flexibility of going into any part of the army (not an option with hesder)

    regarding hiloni girls and sherut leumi, every so often i read that the army is cracking down on this (e.g., looking at their facebook pages).
    Abba’s Rantings recently posted..Preventing Abuse- Yeshivah vs Public SchoolMy Profile

    • “I think he was kidding”

      i wasn’t. i thought that he was mentioning kitchen duty specifically because it invoved some type of melacha but that they still can do it. otherwise i wouldn’t have thought it worthy of note in this context.

      Okay. Now I understand. My son has worked in the kitchen on Shabbat, and he hasn’t said anything about melacha. Presumably they don’t cook on Shabbat, or the religious soldiers would have a problem.
      As far as I know, soldiers are pretty much free on Shabbat to do as they wish, except for those two things. Whether they are religious or not. Hence the confusion, thanks for your question.

  19. Abbas rantings: Bnei Akiva garimin, there is recently a new program.
    Beni Avika nahal for boys only, with working, learning and serving in the army.

  20. Sue- I love that your boys choose such different paths and I bet Shabbat at home is heated and passionate.

    Although there are more options for religious youths everyday and popularity is growing, my husband and EVERY classmate of his Yeshiva high school entered the military without ANY accommodations. They toughed it out.

    They had bad experiences being told they had time to either pray or eat in the morning but not both. They met other Jews who asked them to eat cheeseburgers or come to dance parties on Shabbat. They spent fast days on base working and training(battle battalions were kept in war-conditions for as long as Israel was still technically in Lebanon until 2000). But they served and survived.

    It’s still an option.
    Sara recently posted..Barn Toy BoxMy Profile

  21. faith/emuna says:

    there is no melacha done in the army kitchen on shabbat. adraba, my son (who went to a mechina and is now finishing his first yr out of 3) says that the army kitchen is more machmir then mine bc they do not warm up anything on shabbat, there is a chulent from the nt b4, otherwise everythingn is cold. which in my mind is a bit chaval, bc their shabbat lunch is less mechubad then a chol lunch. but that way its relatively foolproof (that nothing gets ‘cooked’ on shabbat by mistake)

  22. Thanks for writing this post. Very informative.
    Yisroel Reiss recently posted..Googles Innovative Tools- Developed in Israel Ariel Hachstadts Presentation at the Jerusalem MeetupMy Profile

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