Menachem Bombach
President and CEO of Netzach Educational Network
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The more Haredi men enlist, the easier it is for others to join them

If you're ultra-Orthodox, male, and not truly studying Torah all day long, it's time to think of the IDF
Haredi men who decided to join the military amid the war between Israel and Hamas, at the IDF recruiting offices in Tel Hashomer, near Tel Aviv, October 23, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Haredi men who decided to join the military amid the war between Israel and Hamas, at the IDF recruiting offices in Tel Hashomer, near Tel Aviv, October 23, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The Jewish nation is living through days of uncertainty, shock and pain that never seem to end. Every Jew in the world is watching daily events in Israel with nerves on edge. I lost many friends on October 7, and many of my friends lost loved ones. We are all traumatized by what happened, and we live in fear of what lies ahead.

The issues that divided us on October 6 dissolved overnight. All those arguments and hostile positions became meaningless when we confronted the monsters of Hamas. We all woke up facing a fight for our survival that no one wanted.

This war has united our nation, bringing our fragmented society closer together. We have encountered love and generosity at every level. Dormant organizations sprang into action to help and support the army. As part of my own IDF service, I encountered the best attributes of Israeli society, and I was moved to tears more than once by their generous spirit.

Learning Torah vs. national service

My brothers in the Haredi community, whom I love and appreciate, also feel the pressure on our nation, and they have turned out in droves to volunteer and play their part in the national effort. Some visit the injured in hospital, others pay shiva visits to the families of soldiers, or prepare food on IDF bases, and help families who have fled their homes. Their generosity comes from the heart, but to tell the truth, their generosity is also an attempt to compensate for their inability to help on the battlefield. It is an expression of their embarrassment.

I appreciate those who learn Torah and I support their institutions financially, because my faith is based on the living Torah. Last Friday, I sent flowers to a number of genuine talmidei chachamim (Torah sages) whom I admire, with notes saying: “You dedicate yourself to nurturing the soul of the Jewish people, and you deserve our thanks.” If the IDF is the body, then these sages are the soul of our nation. Both are critical to our existence.

However, when it comes to yeshiva students, many – and today I would even say a large proportion – are not really learning all day in the Beit Midrash. We need to admit this openly.

Now is the time to speak out loudly and clearly to these members of the Haredi community, and to request their assistance. Our country is burning, and this existential threat requires us to play an integral role in the national effort. This is the moment of truth, and if we deny this reality, we may be instrumental in inflicting a real crisis on ourselves.

We have to answer this question honestly, and not shy away from this crucial issue, as expressed by Moses when the tribes of Reuben and Gad asked to separate themselves from the nation and remain on the eastern side of the Jordan River: “Are your brothers going out to war while you sit here?”

Haredi army service

This week, Israel’s Supreme Court is discussing a petition from “Achim B’Neshek” (the “Brothers in Arms” organization) concerning IDF military service and Haredim pulling their weight. The government has put off dealing with this issue many times for various political reasons, leaving the status of the conscription law uncertain.

Since October 7, we have seen changes in attitudes in the Haredi community, with greater readiness to reconsider the issue of army service. Since October 9, I have been working with senior army representatives from their human resources department on the recruitment of 2,000 Haredi men to the IDF. Together, we have been working to find suitable jobs for Haredim in the army, and I am impressed by how invested they are in this project, despite the pressures of the war.

Over the past four months, 800 Haredi men have enlisted, mostly as what we call “Stage 2 Volunteers,” meaning that they are older than regular IDF recruits. Some people are calling for younger Haredim to sign up, but I think that this is the first stage – to normalize the idea of army service in the Haredi community. I believe that this will work better than making conscription compulsory, which will alienate the community.

The need of the hour

It’s time for the leaders of the IDF and the Haredi community to sit together and create new and suitable army frameworks that can contribute in real ways to the national defense forces, while upholding our uncompromising halachic standards. At the same time, we should be integrating Haredim into other national service units, such as ZAKA and the rescue organizations.

In recent days, I have witnessed the enthusiasm of many idealistic young Haredim who have approached me personally about enlisting in the IDF. I believe that we need to seize this opportunity, because there is a willingness among the younger generation to step up and share the burden of the nation’s defense. It’s time for the Haredi leadership to recognize the opportunity, to show their wisdom, and acknowledge the urgency to reach an agreement on this issue. Otherwise, I fear that the rest of Israeli society will never forgive us.

We have been invited to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our brothers, and it is crucial that we find a way to do so. If not, who will protect us from the coming crisis?

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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