Hesder Yeshivot

11 Aug

by Shem Tov Sasson

Yeshivat Hesder Ma'alot

For many people, when they think of yeshivot (religious seminaries for men) in Israel, images of religious American teens walking the streets of Jerusalem come to mind. What many people do not know is that there is a huge yeshiva system in Israel that serves both the Israeli population and the “chutznikim” — students from the Diaspora. This is the Hesder yeshiva system, a 5-year yeshiva and army experience. This is the yeshiva network in which I spent a year of my life — in Yeshivat Hesder Ma’alot in the Upper Galilee.

As one might imagine, Hesder yeshivot dot the Holy Land; many of them are quite large, and some even boast many hundreds of students. The first Hesder yeshiva, Kerem B’Yavneh, was established in 1953, and came to an arrangement (a “hesder”), whereby students would learn for some time and then serve their country by means of military service and agricultural labor. Today, there are 68 Hesder yeshivot, and one of the newest yeshivot to have been established is the Hesder Yeshiva of Nazareth Illit.

For a Hesder student, joining the yeshiva means dedicating three-and-a-half years to Torah study and one-and-a-half years to military service in the IDF. Available job options in the army are limited. From our class, students were sent to either Nachal (Infantry), Totchanim (Artillery), Tzanchanim (Paratroopers) or to be jobniknim (desk jobs including Intelligence). To choose a different course in the military one would need to leave the Hesder program and thus obligate oneself to a full three years of mandatory military service. Taking time to serve in the military often gives young men a fresh perspective on life and enhances their remaining time in the yeshiva, after they have truly learnt the value of time during their IDF service.

Located in the lower mountains of the Upper Galilee, Yeshivat Hesder Ma’alot (est. 1974) has approximately 300 students, with a small overseas program attracting mainly American, Canadian and Swiss students. These chutznikim learn Torah studies as well as the Hebrew language. Of course, there are tiyulim (field trips) and religious activities, all supervised by Ariel Friedman, the Director of the Overseas Program. After the first year of Hesder many of these chutznikim remain in the Hesder program, serving in the IDF.

Life in a Hesder Yeshiva is simple and healthy. The meals are delicious — far better than the meals offered in any American yeshiva which I have been to. Israeli peers are kind and thoughtful, offering to help with language barriers at any time (although they often want to learn English in exchange!) The Rabbis and the faculty do their best to ensure a safe and comfortable transition to yeshiva life. Experiences such as guard duty, armed with an M1 carbine, are not easily forgotten. The tiyulim to the wilderness and the cultural gatherings are things to be cherished.

No matter where someone might end up, as has been said: once a student of the Hesder, always a student of the Hesder. The doors are always open, always waiting for new students and old ones alike. If you live in Israel or are considering making Aliyah, do yourself a favour and step into a Hesder yeshiva!

A Rabbi visiting yeshiva students in the army

Shem Tov Sasson is a young entrepeneur living in Israel. His personal blog can be found here: http://israelsgoodname.wordpress.com/

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2 Responses to “Hesder Yeshivot”

  1. John G. Gambell (@snpy_rlz) August 12, 2011 at 6:04 pm #

    Impressive! Never considered joining a Hesder Yeshiva before, but your article is fascinating!

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  1. Religion and State in Israel - August 15, 2011 (Section 1) | The Jewish Wave - May 14, 2014

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