Religious Soldiers in Israel's Army
Israel's armed forces, like many Israeli institutions, make special provisions for the religious needs of Jewish participants.
Ultra-Orthodox Men in Uniform
The Nahal Haredi program was developed in 1999 by a group of rabbis in cooperation with the IDF and the Ministry of Defense. It is an attempt to solve the problem of dropouts from ultra-Orthodox (haredi) yeshivot, and at the same time act as the haredi community's contribution to the IDF, thus alleviating some societal pressure to have all ultra-Orthodox men serve. Haredi men who prove unsuited to the life of study in a yeshivah are sent to serve in specially designed units in the IDF. These units cater to the specific needs of ultra-Orthodox soldiers, maintaining cultural and religious standards (no contact with women, Shabbat observance) and offering some help in adapting to life in larger society (e.g., completing high school equivalency). The ultra-Orthodox public has expressed some dismay over the existence of this unit, however, the unit continues to draw new recruits.
Sherut Leumi – Voluntary National Service
Sherut Leumi (national service), founded in 1971, was originally intended for religiously observant young women as a substitute for military service. Military service is perceived to entail challenges for any observant soldier, and for observant women in particular, specifically in relation to issues of modesty as perceived by the Orthodox world. Today, Sherut Leumi is open to any Israeli, male or female, who does not serve in the army for reasons of health or conscience. There are a number of organizations, recognized by the Ministry of Social Affairs, that coordinate the volunteer activities of participants. Participants must commit to at least one year of full-time service, working for an approved organization. After at least one year of service, participants are eligible for benefits from the State, similar to those given to discharged soldiers.
Practical Problems for the Religious Soldier
The requirement to serve in the army brings the rural kibbutznik together with the Tel Aviv urbanite, the religious man together with the secular woman, and the sabra (native Israeli) together with the immigrant. This lively mix can sometimes present difficulty for religious soldiers.
The Army Rabbinate is charged, among other duties, with providing for the religious life of Jewish IDF soldiers. By nature, religious soldiers are the main clients of this service. The rabbinate has a hierarchy of rabbis and non-commissioned officers mandated to care for religious soldiers and provide for their needs. Military rabbinate personnel are spread throughout every unit and every base in the IDF. They are in charge of assuring that kashrut is supervised, that the base has a synagogue with appropriate appurtenances, and that soldiers receive their rights in regard to religious life.
There are a number of issues of daily life that bear upon the life of a religious soldier. The army has made provisions to accommodate those needs. Some are profiled below.
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