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IDF launches fast-track haredi basic training program

The army wants to recruit ultra-Orthodox citizens to protect their own communities.

Israeli soldiers take part in "Operation Swords of Iron," December 2023. Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit.
Israeli soldiers take part in "Operation Swords of Iron," December 2023. Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit.

For the first time, dozens of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men will undergo a shortened Israel Defense Forces basic training as part of the “Stage B” (Shlav Bet) program, so they can be part of the forces defending haredi cities and communities.

At the end of March, basic training will begin, lasting for only four weeks, during which time participants, haredim over 26 who have not previously been called up to the IDF, will train in basic riflery and combat.

When the current Gaza war began, the IDF used its home defense battalions for the first time in decades. These are trained units mostly made up of residents who live in communities in Judea and Samaria, whose goal during emergencies is to secure their places of residence.

The IDF faced a significant challenge in haredi cities and communities in Judea and Samaria because they had almost nobody who had served in the army. The immediate solution was provided in the form of soldiers from other sectors or discharged navy servicemen who were called up for reserve duty for the first time because of the war.

But this solution became more problematic the longer the fighting continued, due to the length of reserve service and the shortage of soldiers. In parallel, at the start of the war, there was a massive increase in demand from adult haredim, who had already received an exemption but wanted to be conscripted into the “Stage B” program.

This is a project that began around four years ago, in which adult haredim were conscripted into non-combat programs and afterward were integrated into civil defense positions. Hundreds have enlisted in “Stage B” since the start of the war and have already been assigned to reserve duty in a variety of positions, including as lawyers, social workers and ambulance drivers.

A preference for combat

Now the challenge is greater, because the IDF has identified a significant drop in the demand to join reserve units that are not actively engaged in combat, and this can be seen particularly clearly in haredi communities. If in October, thousands of haredim wanted to enlist in “Stage B,” today there are hundreds, and even those still need to undergo screening to determine who is truly eligible.

Like the other communities in the home defense program, the IDF wants to recruit locals to protect their own communities, with a current focus on Beitar Illit, Modi’in Illit, Ma’ale Amos, Emmanuel and Tel Zion—all of which are cities and communities with a haredi character.

However, IDF sources say that they are struggling to find enough candidates from the communities because most of those who requested to serve aren’t suitable in practice. Some figures suggest opening the recruitment to all haredim with an army exemption, irrespective of where they live, which may solve the problem.

In the upcoming enlistment, the first of its kind, 75 haredi soldiers will be recruited to undergo a special model of basic training. A similar program was recently opened for students of the Hesder Yeshivas—attended by those who combine Torah studies and military service—who have not yet been enlisted, so they can defend the communities where they study.

If the pilot succeeds, the IDF aspires to complete the conscription of hundreds of haredim required for the mission of defending their own communities. The army is saying that there are no numerical restrictions and it is capable of training many more soldiers.

The big question is whether the haredim will rush to the shortened basic training to defend their communities. The goal, the IDF emphasizes, is operational, and isn’t connected to the general question of recruiting haredim, i.e., there is a clear and immediate need for manpower to defend the communities.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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