Menachem Bombach
President and CEO of Netzach Educational Network
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Isn’t integration more important than army service?

Barring Haredi men from working while their peers served in the IDF was legitimate – but it also harmed Israeli society

Israel’s government is working on important new plans to change the army service requirement for Haredi men, including lowering the draft exemption age from 26 to 23. This change would be beneficial for Israeli society as a whole, as our fast-growing Haredi population represents an important and under-utilized economic resource.

Currently, Haredi men are required to commit to learning in yeshiva until the age of 26 if they prefer not to serve in the IDF. This not only keeps them out of the workforce for eight years, but also bars them from studying for qualifications during these economically-critical years. 

When people talk about poverty in Israel, this bar is one of its causes. Most Haredi men are trapped in unskilled jobs because they are technologically illiterate. They graduate without English, math or computer skills, and at age 26 it is usually too late for them to learn. By the time they are allowed to leave the yeshiva bubble, they often have large families to support, so they will take whatever low-paid unskilled jobs they can find.

Israel’s population is its most important natural resource, and we need young Haredim to enter the workforce earlier and with more qualifications, to bridge the skills gap and reduce the poverty gap.

In the Netzach Educational Network that I head, we are seeing a huge demand for core curriculum studies and higher education in the Haredi community. Our boys’ high schools that offer Bagruyot are oversubscribed every year, and we are working to expand them and open new branches. 20,000 Haredi teens are enrolled on our Eshkolot online learning platform, opened in 2020, where they study math, English and science subjects in the evenings and at weekends.

This week, Netzach opened a new pre-medical mechina program, in cooperation with the Jerusalem College of Technology (Machon Lev). Our first cohort of 30 men and women are on their way to becoming Haredi doctors!

Netzach is also providing post-high-school programs for Haredi men so they can prepare for higher education. The 50 percent drop-out rate from the university preparatory programs has demonstrated that they cannot be expected to transfer from yeshiva to academia and catch up on 12 years of secular studies in just six months. Ideally, our goal is to enable all Haredi children to study core curriculum subjects from age 6, and our elementary schools are expanding fast. But effecting change takes time in Israel’s ultra-conservative Haredi communities. 

I understand that the issue of army service is a difficult one. The idea of barring Haredi men from working while their peers were serving on the front lines was legitimate, but it was also harmful to Israeli society. Thankfully the IDF needs less manpower these days. Perhaps making army service optional will actually encourage more Haredi boys to enlist. Some of Netzach’s yeshiva high school students have chosen to do National Service after graduating, including boys serving in the intellectually demanding IDF Unit 8200. 

Lowering the barrier to entering the Israeli workforce from age 26 to age 23 will allow thousands of Haredi men to gain qualifications and embark on better-paid careers. Through their earlier social integration, they will be able to contribute their skills to the Start-up Nation, paying more taxes and receiving fewer benefits. Releasing Haredi families from enforced poverty will clearly be better for Israel’s economy in the long run. We hope that our leaders can reach a workable agreement that will keep Israel safe and united.

About the Author
‏Menachem Bombach is an entrepreneur, an educator, Rosh Yeshiva of the boys' residential high school HaMidrasha HaHassidit in Beitar Illit, and the founder and CEO of the Netzach Yisrael Educational Network. ‏Rabbi Menachem Bombach, a Vizhnitz hasid, was born and raised in the ultra-Orthodox community in Meah Shearim in Jerusalem. Following his yeshiva education at the Mir Yeshiva, he earned his undergraduate degree in Education and graduate degree in Public Policy from Hebrew University, where he also founded a preparatory program (Mechina) for Haredi students. Menachem was a fellow at Maoz and in the leadership program of Gesher and is a fellow and senior project leader at the Mandel Institute. ‏After the establishment of the Midrasha HaHassidit in 2017 and in light of its success, Menachem Bombach established Netzach Yisrael, a network of Haredi schools whose mission is to provide its students with an outstanding Haredi education, while in parallel, they work towards their bagrut (matriculation) certificate, a prerequisite for quality employment and higher education in Israel. The network’s academic program empowers graduates to create a strong, financially viable future for them, their future families, and the Israeli economy, while remaining strongly connected to their core values of Torah observance. ‏As of November 2021, the growing Netzach network is 15 schools strong. What started out with 14 students, currently serves 1900 students and fully expect to be serving 2500-3500 within two years, not including the over 26.000 registered at our Eshkolot Virtual School, an online platform which prepares Haredi students for their pre-academic studies. ‏In March 2022, the Netzach Educational Network was awarded the Annual Jerusalem Unity Prize in the category of education. The annual prize is awarded to initiatives in Israel and throughout the Jewish world that are instrumental in advancing mutual respect for others, and acknowledges accomplishments of those who work to advance the critical importance of Jewish unity, and inspire tolerance and mutual respect across the Jewish world –promoting acceptance of those who think, act or live differently.
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