Nachal Charedi – Reality Check

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25 Responses

  1. Baruch Gitlin says:

    The army is not necessarily going to be a picnic for anybody. Some people have bad experiences in the army, some people have good experiences. Most soliders that I know want to do their service and get it over with. Being frum in the army is undoubtedly a challenge, and it does seem that the army could do better in accomodating the needs of frum kids – although I have heard many more positive stories from soldiers that have served in Nachal Haredi than the story recounted here.

    But what I do not understand is why the haredi public thinks it has the right to determine for itself whether or not its sons will serve in the army, a right that the rest of us do not have. Haredi parents are not the only ones that worry about their children’s spiritual needs, believe it or not. Not only do dati leumi parents have the same worries, but so do many secular parents – perhaps the secular parent does not worry about whether their child will have glatt kosher food and sufficient times for prayer, but I believe that many secular parents do worry about their children being brutalized by the army experience – a worry no less sincere than the fear of a haredi parent about kol isah or prayer times.

    With all the upheaval going on around us, particularly in Egypt, the army has pressing manpower needs. If the haredi public were sincere about pitching in and doing their share, they would be demanding better accomodation of their religious needs, rather than what their representatives are demending – an unlimited exemption for any yeshiva student that wishes not to serve.

  2. Daniel Weltman says:

    No one claims that blazing trails is easy, כל התחלות קשות. Nachal Hacharedi is new. As you say, mistakes happen in any system, and especially in a new one, it is the trail-blazers’ stubborn determination that makes or breaks its viability. If the army is flooded with 20,000 boys like your son, these issues will quickly be overcome.

    However, I think your conclusion that, My next child has already gotten their army exemption, is the wrong one. If our commitment to the ideals you and your son obviously share is overridden by an individual bad experience (ignoring the fact that there are numerous others who came out with markedly different experiences), we belie those ideals, and will never succeed at the goal.

    Instead of protesting against and rejecting Nachal Hacharedi, charedim (and all Israelis who care) should be protesting your son’s experience. When the army realizes that mistakes will not be swept under the rug, they will make doubly sure that your son’s story is not repeated.

  3. YS says:

    Rabbi Paths,

    A military is an existential need for most countries, especially the State of Israel.

    Much of what you wrote depicts how serving in the military can be difficult and frustrating, both in terms of the general inconveniences a soldier has to deal with when joining a bureaucratic organization that doesn’t always succeed in catering to all of his spiritual and cultural needs and in terms of being treated as a cog in the wheel of that organization, which doesn’t (can’t?) value his time the way he does.

    I fail to see how this justifies letting other people do the dying for you.

    PS – Many of the things you described, such as commanders forcing food in the face of religious soldiers on Yom Kippur, if true, are scandalous and should be reported to the relevant authorities whom, I have no doubt, will deal with them accordingly. Frankly, having served in the IDF, I have a very hard time believing that most of what you wrote wasn’t greatly exaggerated. The whole piece sounds like an anti-recruitment ‘I told you so’.

  4. YS says:

    It sounds like you had better luck dealing with the larger IDF than dealing with the Nachal Charedi.
    I realize that every child is different but why was the lesson learnt from your two experiences, “My next child has already gotten their army exemption”? Why was it not, as you posted regarding your daughter, “She stood up for what she believed in and made a difference while she was there.”?

  5. Beth says:

    Hey, I have heard that the Times of Israel accepts (unpaid) bloggers. You should really try and get this information out where more people are exposed to it. Our family is not Charedi, but I have tremendous respect and gratitude towards the Charedim who have chosen to serve. Thank you and thank your son and daughter.

  6. L. Oberstein says:

    As a father of a very happy soldier in Netzach Yehudah, I am sorry to hear of your son’s bad experiences. All I know is based on what my son tells me, so I have no first hand knowledge. My son is in Kfir, his commander in basic training was the son of David Landesman, a frequent contributer to Cross-Currents. My son is as happy as can be and is more fulfilled and full of self esteem than he has been in his life. He got into Netzach Yehudah with a little help because our local rav knows someone who is very much involved in Nachal Chareidi ,that is how it is done it seems. Our son tells us that they daven 3 times daily, have their own synagogue, get special kosher food,and are visited by rabbis who give them classes. He has been training day and night and learning many skills especially how to fight a real war. He chose not to go to Ulpan but to learn by total immersion .No one speaks to him in English, only Hebrew. At the end of bsic training, the was chosen to go to a 2 week course to be a
    “Mefaked chulyah”, which I understand means that he will be in charge of a small contingent of men in battle . He is doing all of this in Hebrew and has learned to rely on himself, support himself financially, which is made easy as a “lone soldier”, and become acclimated to Israel. He tells me that in all of his courses, they emphasize that this is a Jewish Army defending the Jewish People.
    My wife and I couldn’t be prouder. I hope that things work out with your son and am sorry that his initial experiences have been so negative. The man who helped my son is Rabbi Bar Chaim, I don’t know him but he seems to know how to get things done in Netzacgh Yehudah. As a parent, I can only say that we can’t give up on our children’s future. If the nachal Chareidi doesn’t work, it will be a disaster for the future of the State of Israel. It is too essential to our survival to let it go by the wayside.

  7. dovid landesman says:

    As the parent of a son who serves in Netzach Yehudah and is the NCO in charge of the battalion currently in training, I was extremely disturbed by this posting. I showed it to my son and asked him to comment and the following was his first reaction. “Abba, I think that the kid is telling his father a story about actually being enlisted in Netzach!” I asked him to temper his skepticism and address the issues raised.

    The following are his reactions:
    POINT ONE: Two and a half weeks before his enlistment date we got a harbinger of things to come. I received [a] call… “hello, is this (Reb Akiva’s son’s father)? Your son has to report for basic training tomorrow”.

    Netzach, like every other brigade in the IDF has fixed conscription dates. However, given the nature of the unit and the very specific population that it serves, the command structure allows for the conscription of additional soldiers at dates later than the original “giyus”. It would seem that the rav tzvai who arranged for the author’s son to be able to join Netzach despite the fact that the requisite amount of enlistees had already been selected, arranged for the later date which is only possible because a number of soldiers who are enlisted at the first period inevitably are dispatched from the unit for a variety of reasons. This is extremely problematic for it means that some of the soldiers join the unit up to a month after the initial inductees who have already begun their training. Whenever possible, the unit will induct those on what is considered the waiting list if someone who is scheduled drops out so as to prevent this serious problem.

    POINT TWO: He said “we’re giving [given] a minimal time to pray, you can just barely get through it if you go at maximum pace and are completely rested when you start. It’s not adequate for Monday’s and Thursday’s (when the Torah is read). Everyone just falls asleep at the learning time, as we’re exhausted and sleep deprived due to the training schedule.

    No one in the command structure including the mefaked plugah has the authority to change or limit the time allotted for davening. According to the pekudat matkal [orders of the chief of staff], soldiers have forty five minutes for Shacharit. This cannot be denied them. If that was insufficient time for the author’s son, then perhaps he should awaken a tad bit earlier. As regards the learning period, time is always available unless the soldiers are on active duty [patrolling, manning the checkpoints or serving as protection for elite units on penetration missions]. However, the very serious nature of the training schedule – remember Netzach is an active combat unit – can lead to extreme fatigue.

    POINT THREE: At the end of basic training there’s an army ceremony for the graduating unit. It’s a big deal, parents or family attend and greet the newly minted soldier. We went to our daughter’s, driving all the way to Haifa for it.
    Our son arrived home for his 3rd Shabbos off. “Hey Tatti (Dad in Yiddish), my training is done.” “What??? When’s your graduation ceremony.” “Doesn’t seem we’re having one, and they told me they’ll call me with orders on what to do next.”

    There are two ceremonies in which every soldier [who is not being disciplined or who has failed to complete all of the requisite training] participates. The first is the tekes hashba’ah held after the completion of the first part of basic training, usually about ten weeks after they were inducted. At this point, they are given a Tanach and an M16 and some are sent to courses [e.g., medics, snipers or machine gunners]. The second is the tekes kumta when the soldiers have finished all of basic training and are awarded their unit berets rather than the generic green ones they wear during basic training. Again, every soldier who has successfully completed training takes part in the ceremony.

    POINT FOUR: Unit members and even commanders have violated Shabbos or Yom Tov intentionally, including eating and shoving food in people’s faces on Yom Kippur.

    Regrettably, many of the soldiers who enlist in Netzach are not shomer shabbos. There are many reasons for this, and an examination of the phenomenon deserves a post of its own. Many of the officers are also not dati as they are drawn from many units. However, the standing orders are extremely clear and no officer will risk his career by issuing an order than contradicts the pekudat matkal. As regards “shoving food in people’s faces on Yom Kippur”; the only explanation that can be offered is that soldiers who are on active duty on Yom Kippur [patrolling the fence between the areas controlled by the PLO and Israel] are told to drink less than a shiur for safety reasons [it is quite hot when riding in a Humvee wearing full battle dress and the possibility of dehydration is very real]. This p’sak was made by the IDF rabbinate as well as by the poskim with whom the founders of Netzach consult.

    POINT FIVE: He was not able to hear the megillah on Purim and has been extremely limited in the abilities to meet Jewish religious obligations for Jewish holidays. NOT because his base is somewhere out in the middle of nowhere or because of army responsibilities, his base is near a residential mixed religious Jewish neighborhood, but because his commanders prohibit it or create a duty schedule that prevents it (when it doesn’t have to).

    None of the Netzach bases are near mixed religious Jewish neighborhoods, so it is difficult to understand what the author means. If his commanders actually created such a schedule, he has the right to complain through the appropriate channels [not through Cross Currents].

    POINT SIX: Oh, but they did give the unit a gift. For the ultra-orthodox guard unit… they installed a big screen TV with 150 cable channels in their common room. (Anyone who knows the ultra-orthodox community knows TV, particularly and especially broadcast TV, is avoided and prohibited.)

    There are televisions in the Netzach bases, but the only cable offered are sports channels. Regrettably, Netzach is not a homogeneous unit [perhaps if more chareidim enlisted this would change] and is made up of a not insignificant number of yeshiva dropouts. No one forces anyone to watch television and there are many fine young men in Netzach who spend their free time in the beit midrash of each base.[Interestingly, many Netzach inductees – referred to as beinishim – an acronym for b’nei yeshivot – are young men who enlisted in Netzach rather than hesder because they desired an environment without the challenge of female instructors and officers.]

    There are many improvements that can and need to be made in Netzach. That said, Netzach, as I have written numerous times, deserves the respect and honor of all of us for its whole-hearted efforts to create a framework within the IDF that can make army service easier for the religious soldier. The author would do well to check his facts carefully before publicizing his calumnies.

    A very proud father of a Netzach soldier

  8. Ori Pomerantz says:

    There is probably some misunderstanding. Three weeks’ basic training is not infantry, it is non-combatant basic training (what I did, except it was four weeks back then).

  9. Joe Hill says:

    The folly of enlisting with an anti-religious immoral army.

  10. Robert Lebovits says:

    Decades ago when I learned in Israel and had many friends who were in hesder, it was touted as the ideal arrangement for combining yehiva learning with military service. In fact, at that time it required extraordinary commitment since it was a five year program so as to fulfill the requisite time of army duty. Though no accommodations were guaranteed in respect to the milieu or observance of Torah and mitzvot, groups were reasonably self-contained and guys were supportive of one another to avoid the most inapprpriate distractions present on a typical mixed-gender army post.
    One very close friend born in Israel though raised in England was in a hesder tank unit. We’d get together whenever we had the chance and often talked about his experiences. Over time his enthusiasm for the program diminshed. Due to the security dangers that were constantly arising at that time he was frequently called away from yehiva – even when is was not officially part of his duty tour schedule – and it would take some time to re-integrate back into the yeshiva when he returned. He said to me that what most people didn’t understand is that when in hesder his “Rosh Yeshiva” was NOT Rav Goldvicht (ZT”L); it was the Ramat Kal (Chief of Staff) of the army who had full control over his life. That “Rosh Yeshiva” was much less concerned about his ruchniut.
    Looks like the more things change the more they stay the same. Until the army itself respects the concept that HKB”H is truly the source of our security and our personal conduct is as critical to our protection as military preparedness, observant soldiers of all religious backgrounds will be at risk for spiritual dangers.

  11. Eli J says:

    Oy, what a royal mess up! Have you considered lodging an official complaint with the Netzig Kvilot Lechayalim? As the father of the soldier you can lodge the complaint yourself and save him the wrath of the officers who will eventually get nailed because of it. Complaints are taken extremely seriously and each complaint is handled by a Sgan Aluf with a team of other officers from the IDF Justice Department. A friend of mine had a similar experience though not as extreme and as a result of his complaint his commanding officer was removed from a command post and eventually released early from the army.

  12. YM says:

    Very telling

  13. Nachum says:

    A piece of advice: Read “Lieutenant Birnbaum,” published by Artscroll and co-written with a contributor to this blog. Or, for that matter, any memoir by a religious soldier in a non-Jewish military. Or one by any soldier in the IDF not in a “charedi” unit. (Hesder or even, believe it or not, regular IDF, where religious soldiers manage.) Then count your blessings.

    Let me point out that this is a *military.* Things will happen. What’s impressive is that, in fact, the IDF will listen and respond.

  14. dovid2 says:

    Dear Rabbi Akiva,

    I second Beth’s comment that your piece should be given the largest circulation possible for one compelling reason: your credibility. You are a charedi whose daughter joined IDF’s Air Force, followed by one of your sons who insisted in serving in an infantry unit when he could have probably got away with a desk job, or serving in a logistics unit. There are very few Charedim who can make such a claim. Israeli politicians of every stripe are currently vociferous about drafting charedim because this is what the “Israeli Street” wants. While I also believe many charedim should serve in the IDF, it shouldn’t be at the price of their frumkeit. If the IDF cannot, OR is not willing to accommodate the spiritual needs as required by halacha, then charedi draft amounts to שְׁמַד in which case we are required to fight such legislation with all the means sanctioned by halacha, יֵהָרֵג וְאַל יַעֲבוֹר included. The Israeli establishment is very vulnerable on the international arena to allegations of coercion and violations of civil rights. ITs attempts to force the charedim to serve in settings that are contrary to their beliefs and practices amounts to religious coercion and violations of their civil rights. After all, you were not asking for a warm mikva in the morning and coffee and croissants for breakfast. You should realize that the contents of your article could shape the conclusions reached by the Keshev Committee whose mandate is to make recommendation re. the draft of charedim (and Arabs). Furthermore, giving a wide circulation to your piece will open the eyes of the Israeli public, who by and large are fair-minded people. They will recognize they cannot make demands on the charedi sector without accommodating their needs.

  15. Akiva Blum says:

    It seems to me, though not being in position of all the facts, that comparing your son and daughter’s experiences, they were really not so different. You see, your daughter intended to overcome or ignore the challenges of integrating in a unit far different from her religious upbringing against the wishes of her parents. She couldn’t possibly come home and complain how unaccommodating they were to her. She asked for it! All her reports naturally focussed on any positive outcomes.
    Your son, on the other hand, expected to have a religiously positive experience, or at least accommodating. He had every right to complain, that this was not what he had been promised by his recruiter or his parents. Naturally, his reports focused on the negative.

  16. ChanaRachel says:

    First of all, I would like to thank the author for his update, which I think provides some needed balance to his son’s unfortunate experience. I have had sons and sons-in-law in various infantry units, both hesder and religiously mixed, and in general found the army very careful to enable religious soldiers to observe halacha. It would be a terrible shame if this post would be used as a “poster boy” (as promoted by some comments) to further discourage Hareidi enlistment, just as a compromise solution is being sought by the government. When my sons were in the army, when potentially problematic situations did arise, the boys were very quick to call their roshei yeshiva, who were always available to give guidance to the soldiers, and to make sure that the army was respecting the rules by which religious soldiers must be treated. Even if there was no army rabbi on R’ Akiva’s son’s base, why was the abuse allowed to continue from Yom Kippur (‘shoving food in their faces’) through purim and beyond? Why did these soldiers and their parents not complain strongly both to their direct commanders and to the rabbis in charge of the Nahal Hareidi? If this had occurred in a Hesder unit, those responsible would have been punished and replaced at once, and it is not clear why the situation here was allowed to fester for close to a year.

  17. lacosta says:

    there’s one problem that wasn’t brought up here , and that is violation of a wall-to-wall ‘yeihareig v’al yaavor’ edict by air force daughter should make her a Marked woman…..

  18. L. Oberstein says:

    Ad hominem attacks are not appropriate. What about comments that make our State of Israel into something vile and to be shunned, comments like “an anti-religious immoral army”

  19. Nachum says:

    “(not by their request, that would be a violation of Shabbos)”

    I think this betrays an attitude that may be part of the problem. It wouldn’t be a violation of Shabbat for the religious soldier to do it; how then can it be a violation of Shabbat to ask another to?

  20. Nachum says:

    “not by their request, that would be a violation of Shabbos”

    One more point about this: It is the consensus of poskim that if there is something that is permitted on Shabbat because of sakanah (as almost everything in the IDF is), it is preferable that a Shomer Shabbat do them- that way, the chillul shabbat will be minimized to the permissible level. For example, it’s best to have a Shomer Shabbat doctor treat you instead of a non-religious one. The soldier may be doing this to enjoy Shabbat more, which is understandable (but perhaps still not preferable), but if he thinks he’s being “frummer” by giving the duty to someone else, he’s mistaken.

    (Indeed, one may wonder if this is a reason for maximum religious participation in the IDF and society in general- so as to minimize chillul shabbat rather than have Shabbat violated on your behalf.)

  21. dovid2 says:

    Rabbi Landesman’s comment above, based on the time stamp, pre-dates mine by more than a day, but it wasn’t there, not when I posted my comment, and not even a week later. Had I read it on the date indicated on the time stamp, I wouldn’t have posted mine. My comment was based on the information in the article, as well as my experience in Tzahal in the late 1970s. On the first day of my basic training, the NCO of the p’lugah (company) ran by us the daily routine. We had six or seven soldiers with kipah s’rugah. (I wasn’t frum at that time.) One of them asked about times for daily prayers. The NCO magnanimously allowed him to daven “ba’zman hachofshi shelcha”, i.e. in your free time. Now, everyone knows that there is no such thing as ‘free time’ in basic training in a combat unit, unless you count the time between midnight and 3:30 am alotted for sleeping. Even this interval is not guaranteed as one had to do guard duty on a rotation basis. What has amazed me to this day was that these kids (they were only 17-18 year old), instead of going to eat breakfast in the morning like the rest of us, they discretely went to daven in a tent that served as beit haknesset for the base. They were willing to skip breakfast but not shacharis. The rest of us were impressed. We sneaked out food for them from the dining room which was a violation of the rules. The ones in my squad were able to gobble down the food because the squad commander looked the other way. Some of the others were not that lucky. In those times, there was no pekudat matkal concerning z’manei t’filah. I trust Rabbi Landesman, who served around that time as well, will confirm this. While our chief of staff, Raful Eitan was a soldier’s soldier, he didn’t busy himself with such ‘niceties’. Baruch HaShem, times have changed for much better. One can be frum and serve with distinction in the IDF.

    I second Rabbi Landesman, L.Oberstein, and ChanaRachel in urging everyone to refrain from badmouthing the Israeli Army and the other Israeli organizations in blogs. They do blow it sometimes because the people who are running them are only human, but blogs are not the right forum to discuss these issues.

  22. dovid landesman says:

    Your update is extremely telling –
    “it seems the “luck of the draw” whether you get assigned to a core combat unit or thrown to one of the outlying units for “overflow” – and I certainly don’t want to bet my son’s religious life on the luck of the draw.”
    There are no outlying units within Netzach Yehudah; it is a combat unit. There are soldiers who are unable – for a variety of reasons – who are judged to be unfit for placement in combat units and they are then dismissed from the battalion and reassigned to other units within Kfir for other duties. This is not because of the “luck of the draw”! Again, given the standards – including physical, attitude, discipline and co-operation – required of a combat unit, there are soldiers who will not make the grade. Yes, this can cause problems for a young frum person who finds himself in a situation other than what he had planned. To this end, those who are responsible for Netzach have been working with the IDF command structure to create a non-combat Nachal Chareidi so as to allow soldiers whose profiles are too low to join Netzach or who are dismissed from the unit during their term of service to serve without the problems that your son may have encountered.
    Judging from some of the comments that your post elicited, I think that you owe Netzach an apology for making accusations that are simply not rue.

  23. Mordechai Adler says:

    I already replied on Rabbi Paths’ blog, but find it imperative to comment here as well. My son, like others who commented above, also served in the Netzach Yehuda brigade. During that period, I personally visited many of the various bases and became a strong supporter of the Netzach Yehuda brigade. After seeing the picture of the son on the blog, I know the boy, met with him on his base, and can only pray that the publicity here, on the blog and in the Jerusalem Post was not his doing or was against his wishes.
    The author is 100% correct in what he writes: The S..k.n Army base is NOT Netzach Yehuda. It is a base located in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area and even Google is not required to find it. I live 10 minutes walking distance from there, and sometimes daven in the shul there on Shabbos, and have eaten meals there as well. It was the base where 3rd year Netzach Yehuda soldiers completing their education were based, and the base’s guard unit had access to the Netzach Yehuda’s kosher and religious facilities. Soldiers who did not cut the muster (physically or religiously) in Netzach Yehuda and no purpose could be found for them were sent to this guard unit. The army moved Netzach Yehuda away from there, and the rest is history.
    My son, when he enlisted for Netzach was told that he would be accepted as a combat soldier, but upon arriving at Bakum (recruiting office) was told that he could doesn’t have the profile to be a combat soldier, and will not be part of Netzach. I complained to the Misrad HaBitachon and they said they will give him a chance. He went to the training base in the Jordan Valley, and worked his tail off. I was in contact with his officers, with the Rabbonim and we all did what we could to make sure he works hard to achieve his potential. Not only did he stay a combat soldier, but he was selected to train as a combat paramedic, went afterwards to urban guerilla training and advanced to become platoon medic, taking part in every excursion into Arab villages and other missions.
    I can just say that before this specific soldier arrived, there was another Chabad soldier who every morning was at the Shtieblach in our community, putting teffilin on with a uniform amongst all the local members and was so popular that he almost never had to walk or take a bus back and forth from the Army base, as everyone gave him a lift. I guess it’s just what you make of the situation.

  24. L. Oberstein says:

    I spoke to my son in Netzach Yehudah today. He confirms that if a bochur is very chareidi, then he may find the army harder to deal with. For example, he said that if he is on guard duty ,he has to communicate with others and maybe a person not used to this will consider this chillul shabbos. Before entering the army, my son wss not physically strong but he has gone from strenth to strength in Netzch Yehudah. He is proud to have been chosen to train to use a grennade launcher rifle M4 and to be allowed to carry it when off duty. He said they are already setting him up for more leadership courses rising slowing in the ladder of responsibility. Based on my sample of one person, I would recomend the Israeli Army for any parent who is looking for a way to motivate and give goals,purpose and meaning to their child. Another interesting thing is that after 8 months of service, a lone soldier is eligible for a free airplane ticket to his former country for a one month break. What other army but a Jewish Army in our Jewish State cares so much for a Jewish boy or girl that they so appreciate his volunteering that they give him a free ticket to visit his family?

  1. April 7, 2014

    […] resigned from involvement with Nachal Charedi because the IDF wasn’t keeping its promises, Rabbi Akiva Path described in detail his son’s horrible experience. He had nothing but tuna fish and corn for weeks, there was […]

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