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Sharp increase in ultra-Orthodox military enlistment amid Israel's war against Hamas

About 3,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews have contacted the IDF in just last two weeks

Netzah Yehuda Battalion, comprised of ultra-Orthodox soldiers, patrols near the Israeli-Gaza border, October 20, 2023. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Hamas war against Israel has led to a surge among ultra-Orthodox religious (Haredi) Jews to join the Israel Defense Forces.

IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Daniel Hagari revealed on Saturday that about 3,000 ultra-Orthodox Israelis have contacted the IDF about volunteering to serve. 2,100 of whom have already filled out questionnaires and expressed concrete interest in immediately joining the defense of the Jewish state.

In comparison, in recent years only 1,200 ultra-Orthodox men have enlisted in the Israeli army for the entire year.

“We plan to draft them into the army in the upcoming week,” Hagari affirmed.

Tel Aviv University Professor Dr. Nechumi Yaffe, who heads the Tatia Haredi think tank, told the Jerusalem Post on Saturday that close to a quarter of Haredi Israelis could be defined as “modern.”

“Prior to the war, our data indicated that 23% of haredim could be classified as modern haredim,” Yaffe assessed.

“Additionally, 27% of the staunchly ultra-Orthodox Israelis, who are deeply rooted in the mainstream of these communities, have been seeking ways to assimilate further into the Israeli identity,” added Yaffe.

If these numbers are accurate, it means that approximately half of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community members no longer wish to live an insular lifestyle, detached from the rest of Israeli society.

Yaffe attributes the surge in ultra-Orthodox interest in the Israeli military to the growing trend among young ultra-religious Israelis to become part of mainstream Israeli society.

“A significant number of haredim are aiming to assimilate into the Israeli identity, and their perspective is: 'We don’t want to feel estranged from the Israeli narrative.' The current spike in the number of haredim eager to enlist in the IDF amid this war mirror that sentiment,” she concluded.

The think tank recently published data indicating that almost seven in ten (68%) of ultra-Orthodox Israelis are in favor of military enlistment. In addition, some 60% of ultra-Orthodox Israelis reportedly believe the community should actively contribute to the State of Israel, especially during a national crisis, like the current war with Hamas.

“On the whole, we’ve observed a substantial rise in the percentage of those wanting to aid in the war effort and align with the Israeli identity,” Yaffe stated.

Ultra-Orthodox women in Israel are also displaying a growing interest in assisting the Jewish state amid the war with Hamas.

The initiative 'Brothers to the Front – The Central Haredi Emergency Management Unit,' which was launched by Tatia, has attracted wide interest among Haredi women. The volunteer organization focused on supporting Israel's homefront by donating food and equipment. In addition, the organization also supports families with and during funerals and the subsequent mourning period.

Prior to the latest war with Hamas, ultra-Orthodox military enlistment was a divisive issue in Israeli society. Unlike most Israeli Jews, most ultra-Orthodox Jews have been exempted from military service on religious grounds.

This has led to significant tensions with mainstream Israeli families, whose sons and daughters are expected to serve in the IDF upon turning the age of 18.

While much of the ultra-Orthodox population appears ready to integrate into IDF and the wider Israeli society, ultra-Orthodox parties have largely opposed the development.

In April, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners discussed the possibility of lowering the exemption age for ultra-Orthodox Israelis from 26 to 23, or even reducing the required age to 21. At the time, a senior IDF official said such new legislation “does not violate the balance” of enlisting soldiers to IDF, stressing a need for “appreciation of service people.”

At the moment, a small but growing minority of ultra-Orthodox Israelis enlist voluntarily in the IDF. The Israeli army has facilitated this process by establishing military units that are designed to cater to the ultra-Orthodox lifestyle, including gender separation, strict kosher food and separate prayer services.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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