IDF to establish three new ultra-Orthodox battalions ahead of new enlistment law

Military drawing up plans for mass recruitment of ultra-Orthodox men after successor to Tal Law goes into effect.

 

The Israel Defense Forces is preparing to absorb large numbers of ultra-Orthodox conscripts in anticipation of a new law setting out the terms of Haredi enlistment. The army has withdrawn its years-long opposition to the creation of new separate units, and is proposing the establishment of three new Nahal Haredi battalions that can be integrated into combat forces.

Ultra-Orthodox soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces.

Ultra-Orthodox soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces.

The army’s plan for taking on large numbers of yeshiva students after the successor to the Tal Law goes into effect was presented on Sunday, in broad outline, to a committee evaluating alternatives to that law, which the High Court of Justice declared unconstitutional.

The committee, chaired by MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima), was briefed by Brig. Gen. Gadi Agmon, head of planning in the IDF’s Personnel Directorate. Agmon told committee members that the army could establish three additional combat battalions, in addition to and in a format similar to the existing Nahal Haredi battalion. He said the possibility of attaching one of these units to the Air Defense Corps is under review, adding that the IDF is also preparing to expand the number of Haredim serving in the Home Front Command.

The army is also considering the referral of ultra-Orthodox recruits to other security forces, such as the Israel Police and Israel Prison Service. The IDF currently places around 2,700 of its troops each year with these bodies.

Traditionally the army has not been enthusiastic about these deployments, because the soldiers are thus “lost” to the IDF. But sending Haredi recruits to these forces would free up other soldiers for military operations and also relieve some of the headache caused the army by having to find assignments for large numbers of Haredim, a task that requires adherence to various religious guidelines and, above all, work environments with as few women as possible.

The workability of this proposal is by no means assured. Previous attempts to bring Haredim into the police and prison service have all failed miserably. Only a few dozen of the hundreds of openings that the Public Security Ministry reserved for Haredim in these agencies have been filled.

Rabbi Uri Regev, founding director of Hiddush for Religious Freedom and Equality, yesterday praised the IDF’s reversal and its willingness to establish additional Haredi battalions. “There is no way to increase Haredi participation in the army without establishing additional Haredi units,” Regev said. “The IDF has realized that we are at the dawn of a new age, in which a majority of Haredi men will do service. Let us hope that the [Plesner] committee recognizes this as well, and will choose the solution of mandatory service rather than trying to be evasive. This is a historic opportunity, and the committee must not miss it.”

 

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By Amos Harel

Amos Harel

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