My son had his first visit with the army for a day of tests. He didn’t get his “profile,” that magic number measuring the army’s opinion of the recruit’s battle-worthiness, because he has yet to send them the results of a vision exam. They nevertheless wasted no time in sending him a letter saying that he is fit to serve, with the date of enlistment and a list of supplies each soldier receives. Both sexes receive the same items with a few exceptions. Men get extra underwear and t-shirts, and boots. Women get tear-gas.
My son will definitely defer the army for at least a year to learn in yeshiva; after all he won’t turn 18 until next March. After that he may continue in hesder (yeshiva combined with shortened service) or do three full years of army service.
The army offers various options for combining academic studies with army service. An atudai attends university at the army’s expense (but only tuition), does basic training in the summer, and must sign on to continue serving the army for a few years. There are also more elite academic units where the army directly supervises and trains a group of top students, and my son has set his sights on one of those. My son’s rosh yeshiva argued against this option. It’s an eight-year program and a big commitment for an 18-year-old to make. In hesder, he can change his mind in the middle; if he quits one of the other programs he loses his rights. My idealistic son wants to do full service, and the RY argued that throughout their lives, hesder graduates serve more because they are more motivated to do reserve duty. He pointed out that reserve duty is the heart of the Israeli army in the first place.
He didn’t convince my son. The hesder units are field units, which he doesn’t believe is the best use of his talents, and he’s attracted to the idea of finishing university while serving the country and having a career, both in the army and afterward, waiting for him at the end.
In the meantime he narrowed down his yeshiva choices and (I believe) has discarded the haredi option. The RY vehemently opposed the idea of haredi yeshivot being on a higher level. He said that the haredim simply don’t respect great Torah scholars in the religious Zionist camp such as Rav Lichtenstein, and suggested that while in yeshiva my son should focus on his learning without having to worry about changing his hashkafa (religous outlook) too.
In the army one of the interviewers asked him whether he spoke any languages other than Hebrew. She continued:
What language? English.
Do you speak words in English? Yes.
Do you speak sentences? Yes.
Do you speak fluently? Yes.
Do you speak at a mother-tongue level? Yes.
She repeated the same questions, this time regarding reading.
The final question was, “What language do you speak at home?” He replied, “English.”
Maybe you had to be there.