Israeli Military Recruiting Kollel Students For Technical Jobs


kollel-students-idfFacing dwindling enlistment and wanting to utilize a largely untapped manpower pool, various branches of the Israeli Defense Forces have begun looking at ways to enlist chareidi-religious soldier. Inspired by the success of the Nahal Charedi infantry program, Major General Eliezer Shkedi, former commander of the Israeli Air Force, founded a special pilot project dubbed Blue Dawn in 2007 to recruit kollel students. Trained as aircraft mechanics and technical personnel, all inductees are required to be at least 22 years of age and are promised benefits similar to that of the Nahal Charedi.

The results of a poll, conducted by Brig. Gen. Rami Ben-Efraim, have indicated that these soldiers are some of the most motivated in the entire IDF.

Despite complaints by some soldiers of a lack of understanding of religious issues by their commanders, and allegations that the promised conditions of service have not fully been realized, 60 percent of participants in Blue Dawn have tendered requests to enter the officer training course and to extend their terms. According to one Blue Dawn participant who has already graduated from officer training, this is the largest percentage in the entire IAF.

The program is reportedly considered so successful that there are plans to double the number of soldiers by next year. The intelligence corps has initiated its own effort to recruit chareidim and the logistics corps is planning a religious framework along these lines as well. All of these programs are part of the IDF’s “Orthodox integration plans” initiative which is described as a set of “plans to integrate chareidim in the IDF in order to serve in attractive professions in the various service branches and in a special framework for the chareidi community.”

In August, Prime Minister Netanyahu was briefed at Hatzerim Air Force Base regarding Blue Dawn courses and integration into the armed forces.

According to the IDF spokesman’s office “The project was carefully coordinated with cooperation from the Human Resources Branch, to allow the soldiers to serve in the army while adhering to the stringent laws of their religion.”

Soldiers have been assured of three daily prayer services, Torah classes, strictly kosher food and an immediate workplace without women. It is considered immodest in religious circles to work in a mixed-gender environment. Soldiers serve on bases near their places of residence and frequently are allowed to spend nights at home. Once a month, soldiers are given a full day of Torah seminars, organized by the military rabbinate.

Moreover, volunteers are promised that they will be taught marketable skills. All soldiers serving a full three-year term are to receive civilian training to help ease their transition to the job market.

Participants are given advanced training in aircraft maintenance, munitions handling and loading, electrical engineering, and computer programming.

Yissachar Helman, a twenty-two-year-old airplane technician from Meah Shearim, is one of the soldiers in the program. He explained that the career options open to kollel students, such as kashrut supervision, teaching, and the rabbinate are “not suitable for everyone.”

Yisrael Heinman of B’nei Brak explained his participation in the IAF. “We are required to do our service to the nation, to guard the people who are here.” He said that military service has no connection with any problems that his community has with the state or with any cultural battles being fought in Israel today. “Someone has to do this,” he stated.

One of the officers in charge of the recruits said that they are “soldiers with a high potential. [They are] quality, professionals, [ready] to contribute and to give.”

The average soldier in the project is twenty-four, married, and a parent of at least one child. The difference in age and in life experience could account for the above average level of responsibility and motivation.

However, not all participants were happy with their experiences in the IAF.

An airman, posting on a chareidi message board, complained that the officers did not understand the needs and mentality of chareidim. Looking back on his service after almost two years, many of the conditions promised had not been fulfilled to his satisfaction. He opined that the training received was insufficient to allow him to find a good career upon discharge and that his service brought him in frequent contact with servicewomen.

A single-gender environment, notwithstanding army assurances, cannot fully be expected in the Air Force. Only in a unit with completely closed and gender segregated bases such as the Nahal Haredi is such a condition realistic.

However, even with the problems being encountered, it truly seems that the IDF is reaching out to the chareidi community in a way that it has not done before. Historically, the IDF was looked upon as a tool of cultural integration in Israeli society and was perceived by the chareidi community as a vehicle for secularizing their community. That was then. Today, the defense establishment admits that to induct the religious, accommodations must be made.

{Samuel Sokol for Larry Gordon’s Five Towns Jewish Times/ Newscenter}


  1. Kol hakavod to the IDF and to the Charedim who make the difficult decision to serve in the army! As an American moderate Charedi, I hope we soon see the day when it becomes normal in Israeli Charedi society to serve in the army and take up the same professions that the rest of Israelis are engaged in.