Paratroops OC’s views over hesder spark dismissal calls

Originally published in Jerusalem Post, December 13, 2010, by Yaakov Katz and Jonah Mandel.



Calls are mounting for disciplinary action to be taken against Paratroopers Brigade commander Col. Aharon Haliva, who reportedly said that he hates the hesder yeshiva military track, under which soldiers do only 16 months of active military service.

Several yeshivas are reportedly considering canceling their students’ planned enlistment in the Paratroopers Brigade after Haliva, who previously served as commander of the IDF’s Officer Training School, known as Bahad 1, told a group of soldiers that he cannot stand the hesder program.

Hesder, an arrangement launched decades ago to allow religious soldiers to combine Torah studies with military service, today encompasses about 6,000 soldier-students and about 40 yeshivot. It is a five-year program that sandwiches military service between terms of yeshiva studies before and after.

“I hate and cannot stand this track,” Haliva reportedly said during a meeting with soldiers from the brigade’s 890th Battalion, explaining that his main problem was with the shorter service.

“I would rather take someone not as good to become an officer and who will stay on for three or four different positions than a soldier from the hesder track who will leave after one job. It just doesn’t pay.”

A number of religious politicians called on Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.- Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi to take immediate disciplinary action against Haliva. MK Zevulun Orlev from Habayit Hayehudi told the press that Haliva needed to be fired from his current position and prevented from serving in command posts.

Indeed, Ashkenazi distanced himself from Haliva’s remarks during a lecture at a hesder yeshiva in Modi’in on Sunday.

“Yeshiva students come to the IDF with their faith and desire to contribute,” Ashkenazi said. “They have long ago become a strong force within the IDF command.”

Rabbi Ya’acov Medan, one of the heads of the Har Etzion hesder yeshiva in Alon Shvut, where students also can join the paratroopers, displayed a certain degree of “empathy” to Haliva, but stressed that the officer’s hostility could do no good.

“Haliva’s claims pertained to budgetary concerns. It’s true that to train a hesder student costs more. He also noted the manpower shortage in the IDF infantry, and to a certain degree you can understand [his sentiment],” he said on Sunday.

“At the same time, his statements expressed hostility,” Medan continued. “We are trying to do the impossible, to bridge between two highly important missions – establishing the Zionist- Orthodox world of Torah, that can bridge between the different sectors in Israel, alongside the need to serve in the military. We are doing so in the best way we know, and the hardships on both sides are real.

“With all the affection for and empathy I have with Haliva, alongside the true pain his statements expressed was a lot of hostility, and that cannot lead to any good place, since the yeshivot and students do their best to give what they can in the framework of their military service. They want to volunteer to the best units, and not feel alienation or hostility,” Medan stressed.

Despite his criticism of Haliva, Medan said the top officer did not need to be punished. Medan said it was too soon to know if Har Etzion students who were accepted to the paratroopers had relinquished their spot in that unit, following Haliva’s remarks.

“There is a lot of encouragement from the yeshiva to join the paratroopers, we also encourage to become commanders and officers,” he noted. “We hope that Haliva’s statements, with all their hostility, won’t diminish our students’ motivation to serve in the paratroopers.”


The Brigade Commander, the Dean, and the Clerk in the Treasury

Shabbat b’Shabbato 1354: Shemot 18th of Tevet 5771 25/12/2010 by Rav Amichai Gordin

Original hebrew.

Here is what the commander of the Paratroopers Brigade said: "You ask if it is true that in the Paratroopers Brigade there is discrimination against the 'Hesder' men. Yes, it is true. And what is the brigade? I am the brigade. As far as I am concerned, all of these special programs – Hesder, Machal, Nachal – are things that I don't want to see in my brigade. These programs do not have any economic value for me."

* * * * * *

Here is what the dean said: "You ask if it is true that in the university there is discrimination against the humanities. Yes, it is true. And what is the university? I am the university. As far as I am concerned, all of these special programs – history, languages, philosophy – are things that I don't want to see in my university. These programs do not have any economic value for me."

* * * * * *

Here is what the treasury official said: "You ask if it is true that in the Treasury Ministry there is discrimination against other ministries. Yes, it is true. And what is the treasury? I am the Treasury Ministry. As far as I am concerned, all of those ministries – culture, ecology, and sports – are things that I don't want to see in the government budget. These ministries do not have any economic value for me."

* * * * * *

I do not know Colonel Aharon Chaliva, the Commander of the Paratroopers Brigade. I assume he is a highly qualified and valuable officer who has contributed greatly to our security. Unfortunately, it has become clear that even qualified and good men can be afflicted with limited understanding. The commander made two embarrassing errors.

His first mistake is the idea that the Paratroopers Brigade is a goal in itself. But the brigade is not a goal, rather it is a means to an end. It is a tool to be used by the army. In fact, the army itself is not a goal but is also a means. It is a tool to be used for the good of the whole country.

Colonel Chaliva does not want any members of Machal, soldiers from abroad, in his brigade. If the Paratroopers Brigade is the ultimate objective, then the colonel is right. Why should people from abroad be inducted into his unit, which is so highly praised? They will not be as good as the native Israelis in the role of soldiers. Their service period is also much shorter. It is a pity to invest in them, they are not as valuable as other soldiers.

But if Chaliva would be willing to lift his sights a bit higher, above the exalted Paratroopers Brigade, he might begin to understand that there is a huge benefit from the concept of allowing Jews from abroad to serve in the IDF. It is a good way for them to become linked to the country and to our society. It is a way to help them become absorbed into the land. Perhaps it will not help the Paratroopers Brigade directly, but it has helped in the past and it will continue to help our country and our society.

Colonel Chaliva prefers not to have a Nachal program, combining army service with agriculture. If the colonel would put in a bit more thought, he would understand that without the Nachal program he might have a slightly better army, but this better army would not have any settlements to protect.

* * * * * *

Colonel Chaliva's second mistake is connected to the relationship between the spirit and physical power. The Air Force long ago came to the conclusion that educated pilots are better than pilots who are not educated. And for this reason the Air Force added a whole year to the pilot training course. In this added year, our pilots continue to study and become better educated. They spend a year studying things that will not directly help them fly better (political science, mathematics, and more). The leaders of the Air Force understand that pilots who have studied more are better at their job, and that they are better able to cope with complex situations. This is what the commander of the pilot's training course explained to his students about the objectives of the course.

In the Air Force, the commanders understood that a man is not a machine, and that the spirit has an influence on the ability to wage war. The Air Force expends very large sums of money so that its pilots will be well educated. From a limited financial point of view, this would seem to be a mistake, but from a broader outlook this is necessary.

Not everything can be measured by objective criteria. The spirit has some value too. In fact, it can be very valuable. The spirit contributes very much to the army, but even more importantly – it contributes to the country as a whole. Torah that is studied in the Hesder yeshivot helps the students to be more valuable people, to contribute more to the country and to society as a whole.

The army loses some potential time that the Hesder students might serve. The country "wastes" money for studying the humanities, which do not increase the economic value of the country in any way. At first glance this is indeed a waste, but from a deeper point of view it is an investment. And it is an investment that increases in value as time goes on.