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The Haredi IDF Brigade That’s Existed For 25 Years

Since the unanimous Israeli Supreme Court historic decision to draft Haredim–starting with 3,000 men–into the IDF last month due to a lack of manpower nine months into the war, tension has increased among Israelis. While controversy stirs around the topic with Haredim often represented as vehemently anti-military, it’s crucial to root back to reality. Sensible, moderate insiders brought up in the Haredi community intimately know their communities and care about protecting Eretz Israel.

Today, the individuals contributing to war efforts are better categorized as factions of communities. The bridge between Israeli society and the Haredi is being built and used simultaneously.

In October, IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari reported that over 2,000 Haredim requested to volunteer. Approximately 20,000 Haredi teens took to farmland to assist with harvesting following the abrupt departure of foreign workers. Additionally, Haredi volunteers have done some of the most spine-chilling tasks of collecting human remains of Hamas victims through Zaka.

We spoke with Yossi Levy, CEO of Nahal Haredi, an organization that works with the Israeli Defense Forces to create environments fit for Haredim to serve in the army.  

In visiting the conversation with Levy, people should feel encouraged to hear that Nahal Haredi builds a road between the historically insulated Haredi world and broader Israeli society. Levy grew up Haredi and his brothers attended the best yeshivot in the community.

Army service changes people. “No one dies when they learn Gemara,” Levy said, “soldiers are going to die.”  Nahal Haredi is a combat unit, “they are first line in the war,” Levy crystalized.

Nahal Haredi was founded in 1999 as a solution for young men who left yeshiva. In the infancy of Nahal Haredi’s inception, the IDF was hesitant to establish a Haredi company (what units are referred to in the IDF) and resisted the idea altogether. It started with 30 boys, when we spoke with Levy he said there were more than 3,000, and when we checked the Nahal Haredi website, they cited over 21,000 veterans to date. 

Different from individuals within the Dati Lemui (Religious Zionist community), Haredim weren’t raised to participate in Israeli society other than within their yeshiva communities. Although also observant, Haredi-specific communities operate without women in the unit and account for the three daily tefillot (prayers in the morning, afternoon and night), as well as an hour of daily Torah study. The goal in creating such companies within the army is to provide Haredim with the option to servie their country. 

Levy says that one in nine Haredim will come to Nahal Haredi, and that their counterparts tend to struggle with other issues when they don’t fit the mold of their communities. Parents are typically against their children’s enrollment, “at the beginning there’s a lot of problems with family, [and] after a couple years, they see the success of their son’s. There’s a lot of support.” 

Levy tells the story of his father going to Rabbi Ovadya about his son’s enlistment in the army, and he was okay with it. Levy continues that many rabbis, particularly in Sephardic and Chassidishe communities, are supportive of Jews defending the land.

Because of the insularity of the Haredi community, options for young men not keen on yeshiva are limited. Haredi brigades provide a unique and relatively new opportunity for Haredim to enter the army and subsequently participate in academic and civil environments that they wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to experience. Levy also touches on how the Haredi brigades allow men to keep Haredi values while they serve Am Israel.

As Haredim are expected to be drafted as early as next month, we should be mindful that drastically different worlds within Israel are learning to cooperate and participate with one another. This leads to more opportunity and integration within our turbulent yet miraculous Holy Land.

Thank you to all of the soldiers who risk their lives to defend Israel every single day. 

 

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