Israel's Education Minister Rescinds Support for Extending IDF Yeshiva Program

Shai Piron has called the proposal to extend the hesder program, which allows religious soldiers to combine military service with yeshiva study 'inconceivable,' after voicing support for it during election campaign.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

Education Minister Shai Piron has reversed his earlier position on extending an Israel Defense Forces program that allows male religious soldiers to combine yeshiva study with military service.

Before the national election in January – where his Yesh Atid party won big on a reform platform – Piron advocated looking into making the hesder program longer. But he said recently that such a move would be a "fatal blow to that enterprise."

The Perry Committee – a ministerial committee charged, among other things, with drafting legislation to increase ultra-Orthodox participation in military service – has discussed extending the hesder program. This is partly because if ultra-Orthodox Jewish men are drafted under the current rules, they will be required to serve longer than hesder participants, who are mostly national religious Jews.

When Brig. Gen. Gadi Agmon, the head of the IDF’s Planning and Personnel Division, presented the Perry Committee with the army’s plan for shortening the length of mandatory service for men, he made it conditional on several parallel measures, including extending the service of hesder soldiers. About 1,400 soldiers serve in the hesder program, which last 16 months, compared to the usual three years for men. Army officials and committee members are interested in making the hesder program 24 months long.

A high-ranking IDF officer recently said making the hesder program longer is "a matter that ought to be discussed and resolved. If the Haredim are to serve for 24 months on average, it’s only right that the hesder track, which represents the religious Zionist sector, should match it."

In a letter Piron sent to member of the Perry Committee about a week ago, which was published this morning in Ma’ariv, he wrote, "It’s certainly important and right to examine the hesder track, as it is appropriate to look into any military framework. Changing the situation requires changing the structure of the various programs, but a unilateral lengthening of the track could harm all of us."

Piron is a prominent figure in the religious Zionist community. He served as the head of a large hesder yeshiva in Petah Tikva and was one of its founders.

In January, the website Spirala, which is run by students at Sapir Academic College near Sderot, reported comments by Piron indicating that he supported extending the hesder program.

During an election convention at Kibbutz Alumim in the Negev Desert, Piron reportedly said, "Religious Zionism should also look closely at the hesder track to see whether it meets the criteria of equal civic responsibility. Is it legitimate that a young man in the fourth year of the program should take his college admission examinations in the hesder program after he returns from his military service, while his friends serve in the army for three more years?"

Piron also suggested, according to Spirala, that young men from the national religious movement join pre-army academies, serve in the army for three years and afterward study in religious academies offering Phase II studies for graduates of the pre-army academies.

In his recent letter, on the other hand, Piron wrote, "It’s inconceivable that now, when religious Zionism is a senior partner in the state’s leadership, measures to ensure equal civic responsibility – measures that are intended to bring in those who are not partners – should damage the world of Zionist Torah study, which prepares spiritual leaders who are connected to the state and to society. More than connecting and unifying, such a measure conveys a message that Torah study and public responsibility supposedly cannot be built in the same place."

In 2010, the then-commander of the Paratroopers Brigade, Col. Aharon Haliva (today a brigadier general and the commander of an elite unit), was quoted as saying he found the hesder tack intolerable and not worthwhile. His statements provoked uproar in the national religious community, forcing the IDF to clarify them and even apologize following a protest by the Association of Hesder Yeshivas, which runs the hesder program together with the IDF.

The hesder yeshivas are considered a strong lobby, which in the past has opposed lengthening the term of army service for yeshiva students. But in recent years, more officers from combat units have spoken out against the hesder program.

An IDF brigadier general who commanded a combat brigade told Haaretz, "We need to put the hesder yeshivas in order too. The gap between 36 months of service for a secular man and 16 months for a yeshiva student is discriminatory. It’s a shame that the religious Zionist movement, which is wonderful, does 16 months of service, and it’s not right to leave the matter unresolved."

Meir Harel Hesder Yeshiva in Modi’in.Credit: Moti Milrod

Click the alert icon to follow topics:



Automatic approval of subscriber comments.

$1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN

A family grieves outside the SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Wednesday.

Israeli PM Offers Condolences After Texas Gunman Kills 21 at Elementary School

U.S. President Joe Biden, this week.

Biden Decides to Keep Iran's Revolutionary Guards on Terror List, Says Report

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.

Progressive Jews Urge ADL Chief to Apologize for Calling Out Democratic Activist

Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders with Jessica Cisneros in San Antonio last week.

It’s AIPAC vs. Bernie Sanders in Too-close-to-call Texas Democratic Runoff

U.S. President Joe Biden. Making a historic pivot to Asia.

Biden Does What His Three Predecessors Talked About Yet Failed to Do

Meir Kahane addressing his followers during a demonstration in Jerusalem, in 1984.

Why the U.S. Removed Kahane Chai From Terrorist Blacklist