Mechina

In Israel’s army, more officers now religious. What that means.


The percentage of officer cadets who are religious has grown 10-fold since the early 1990s. Among secular Israelis, that’s being met with a mix of respect, and concern.

By Christa Case Bryant, The Christian Science Monitor, April 17, 2015


In the early 1990s, ... Orthodox men accounted for 2.5 percent of graduates of infantry officer training courses; since then, it’s grown to more than 25 percent... In some combat units, they make up as much as 50 percent of new officers – roughly quadruple their share of Israel’s population. The upward trend, coupled with a parallel decline in the number of combat soldiers and officers coming from secular families, is dramatically changing the face of the IDF. Read entire article

Passover Interview with Rabbi Drukman - Part 3 of 3: Influencing Public Values

"Do everything you can to ensure the future of the people and the country."

Rabbi Haim Drukman established a generation and paved the way for the religious Zionist movement in many areas. Apart from the love of Torah and love of Israel, he has a great message here for today's youth

By Ariel Horowitz – Arutz Sheva, Small World Magazine, 12 Nissan 5775, 01/04/15 (Translation)


Influencing the values the public

YBA Chairman, Rabbi Haim Drukman
 In the rabbi’s study in Merkaz Shapira, tables and benches are arranged in orderly rows. It is a small sanctuary in the eyes of the few students who have been coming to study with Rabbi Drukman for many years at the house; to be taught Torat Eretz Yisrael by their teacher, the positive attitude to the State and the words of Rabbi Kook. 

It seems that in recent years the religious Zionist youth have strayed a little away from these things. The emphasis has shifted to the individual, the personal. Hasidism is gaining wide acceptance, and the path of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook is less dominant. "I agree that there is more of a trend toward the individual today, the personal, and therefore youth are searching for these aspects," says Rabbi Drukman, adjusting his glasses on his face, "[But] one should see himself as part of society – this is the truth, and the need to educate to what is true. We shouldn’t under-estimate the value of the individual, but we have to see the individual as part of the whole. The correct way is for each individual to figure out how he can best help to benefit the whole of society and build on that. It is like the relationship between the hand and the body: Isn’t it unthinkable that the hand should speak for itself, as separate from the body? A body without a hand is crippled, but the hand without the body is worthless. When a person considers only himself, it may easier, more pleasant, but the truth is that he is part of the society. The individual does not become lost as part of the society: the individual takes on its real value as part of the society."

Is it still possible to educate towards these values?

"I think so. I try to learn from my mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, who reiterated dozens of times the main principles that were important to him, and little by little they sunk in. He did it on purpose. He understood that values have to sink in, to penetrate all the armor that person has. The values have remained the same values, and we still need to educate toward them, but we need to change the means of doing so because we cannot ignore the place that Individualism is gaining. An educator needs to talk to the place where his students are at. If he ignores this rule, his words will not be heard. It can be compared to an adult and a baby who both want to drink. You give a glass or an open bottle to the adult, but for a baby you make a small hole in the bottle for him to suck on, otherwise he might choke. The same holds true with students. We cannot speak in a language that would not be listened to; you have to figure out a way to present these values to the audience in front of you."

Once a week, Rabbi Drukman devotes an entire evening to the questions of first year students at his yeshiva, Yeshivat Hesder Or Etzion. For years he was the senior rabbi at the Association of Hesder Yeshivot. But despite the fact that new Hesder Yeshivot have opened everywhere, many teens today are preferring to enroll in pre-IDF Mechina (preparatory) programs. "The Hesder Yeshiva [track] is by far the best path," said Rabbi Drukman, "but I supported the establishment of the pre-IDF Mechina academies because not every youth is inclined to attend a Hesder Yeshiva, and a year of Mechina before being drafted will strengthen him very much. There were those who thought that the Mechina programs would hurt the Hesder Yeshivot, because they might attract some boys who are on the border and could also be appropriate for yeshiva. But I do not think this is the right attitude. We have to worry about all of them."

But a high school senior can say to himself: I will go to a Mechina, learn for a year, or a year and a half, get stronger and then serve for a full three-years in the army, like everyone else. What need is there for Hesder Yeshivot?

"The purpose of Hesder Yeshivot is not to strengthen the guys so that they can succeed in keeping their religious identity in the army. This is a very important goal, but it is the goal of the Mechina programs. The Mechina programs do not pretend to give rise to scholars. The role of the yeshiva is to train scholars. Those who go to the Hesder Yeshivot contribute to the security of the whole of Israel, its physical security and its spiritual security. Our mission is to grow scholars who also serve in the army. Can we accept a situation in which Torah sages will grow only from those who do not go to the army?"

But most Hesder Yeshiva graduates do not continue into the rabbinate.

"Our sages long ago taught us ‘A thousand students make one teacher.' In order to produce one exceptional scholar, we need to have a thousand students studying the Torah. Moreover, even those not involved in the rabbinate, but instead chose to go into other areas, still should be Torah scholars. Is there not a qualitative difference between those who learn Torah for one year and those who study diligently for a few years? I very much appreciate the Mechina academies and think they are doing a great thing, but you can’t come out a scholar after just one year in a preparatory program. There is a great need for Mechina programs, but there is an even greater need for more Torah scholars, and its the yeshiva's role to cultivate them. "

Turn away from evil, do good

It is doubtful that Rabbi Drukman imagined that his nomination as Israel Prize laureate would bring back an old and painful affair: the sexual harassment charges against the YBA Netiv Meir Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Zev Kopolovitz. A few days after his nomination, there were calls for the Minister of Education to revoke the award decision. A group of YBA Netiv Meir graduates sent a letter to the Minister of Education, which claimed that Rabbi Drukman knew of the criminal deeds of Kopolovitz - for which was sent to prison - but did not contact the police, allowed him to continue teaching in the institution and tried to cover up the story. "That's a false and fabricated story," thunders Rabbi Drukman, while sailing in his memory back to those days. "At the beginning of the affair I was told that he was retiring as head of the yeshiva because of health problems, and I regretted it. After a while he returned to his post, and I understood that his health condition had improved. Four years later, after I had become Chairman of Yeshivot Bnei Akiva, I heard rumors about what he had done, and on the same day I suspended him from his position. Truthfully, I did not know that I had to report it to the police. In those days, 12 years ago, these things were not as salient as they are today. It's not true that I knew and covered it up; that's a complete lie. I knew nothing. And when I learned of the rumors, I suspended him from his position immediately. Indeed, it was wrong that I didn’t report it to the police, and I regret that. "

How do you think the religious community should treat sexual harassment in the community? What about solutions such as the Takana Forum?

"Our public should treat sexual harassment like any other public: through the police. We must not, God forbid, ignore any such phenomenon or the need to deal with. I do not think that the religious community is any different from the general public in any way." 

Rabbi Drukman in his study
The conversation with Rabbi Drukman goes on and on. It is interrupted by phone calls from people wanting to wish the rabbi well for the holiday;  his loyal assistant brings the rabbi documents to sign, including updates on what's happening in the rabbi’s many areas of responsibility. Rabbi Drukman expertly juggles all these tasks; recalling a quote from an old book, and knows exactly where to quickly find the quote among the thousands of books that line the walls of the room.

You cannot ignore one of the largest endeavors of Rabbi Drukman, one in which he has been involved since ancient times: the Bnei Akiva youth movement. He was a member, and a leader in his youth. The movement has undergone major changes over the years - some would call them "extreme." Drukman has called them "positive strengthening". The rabbi is happy to address the subject and sets his eyes on the changes brought about by the Bnei Akiva movement in Israel: "Of course there is tremendous progress in Bnei Akiva compared to what it used to be. Naturally, since the Yeshivot Bnei Akiva educational network was founded, which built high schools and encouraged youth to study Torah, religious practice has been strengthening.

We always knew in the Bnei Akiva youth movement that we are part of the people of Israel. We understood that one cannot say 'I saved my soul,' but rather we should take care of all the people. We understood that our job is to educate, and the matter is progressing on an upward spiral. We understand the need for patience and forbearance, even today. You can’t be anxious. We have to understand that if you want to educate the people of Israel, it is necessary to be patient, and we must not think that everything happens quickly. So it is with education. Do not give up; believe in the big ideal and say, God willing, we come to it."


Towards the end, as if not enough words had already been spoken, I ask him what message he would like to deliver to today’s religious Zionist youth. Rabbi Drukman pauses a moment, thinking. "You must know that you are the future of Israel and the State of Israel," he says, "It is very important that you do everything you can to ensure the future of the people and the country. You should be filled with values and identify more and more with who you are, be role models in every way and try to ‘Love for the Sake of Heaven.' God asks us to love simple things: learning Torah, good behavior and speaking graciously to others. These constitute Love for the Sake of Heaven. You must always think about how you can bring heavenly love to people. Just as we see great progress in our people, we see also a thirst for True Judaism. You can help promote this process: the process of returning the nation to its natural roots. This our mission today.”

Go to AFYBA Website

Passover interview with Rabbi Drukman - Part 1 of 3: The 'Formerly Religious' Phenomenon

"Do everything you can to ensure the future of the people and the country."

Rabbi Haim Drukman established a generation and paved the way for the religious Zionist movement in many areas. Apart from the love of Torah and love of Israel, he has a great message here for today's youth

By Ariel Horowitz – Arutz Sheva, Small World Magazine, 12 Nissan 5775, 01/04/15 (Translation)

Rabbi Drukman at memorial service
for Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, zt"l
This year, as every year, Rabbi Haim Drukman visited the grave of his mentor, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Hacohen Kook, on the Mount of Olives on his yortzeit (the Fast of Esther). Thirty years have passed since that rainy day that Rabbi Zvi Yehuda was buried. "I think that his character is sorely missed today," said Rabbi Drukman with sad eyes, "In many situations, I feel that he is missing." How symbolic that three years ago, on his way back home from the Mount of Olives, the rabbi received notification of winning the Israel Prize.

"The real prize is the privilege to contribute to the nation, the state, the Israeli public," says Rabbi Drukman, "When there is official recognition of this enterprise, it certainly adds value."  Rabbi Drukman’s modest words actually allude to several enterprises: his establishment of Bnei Akiva yeshivas in Israel, his many years of work with the Association of Hesder Yeshivot and his position as head of the Israel government’s Conversion Authority. This last role put him in a severe – some would say explosive – conflict with the ultra-Orthodox Haredi world.

In his book-lined study at his home in Merkaz Shapira, a small religious community in the south, just a short walking distance from Yeshivat Bnei Akiva Or Etzion that he founded, Rabbi Drukman sits, learning and teaching, advising students and rabbis, in person and on the phone; Looking down from above is a painting of Rabbi Kook, whose name he mentions during our conversation over and over again. Just before Passover we came to his home to talk to him, to try to understand some of his teachings, and to hear his thoughts on religious Zionism, today's youth and Israeli society.

‘Taking off the hat’


When I ask Rabbi Drukman to recall the religious world that he experienced in his youth, he was not tempted to glorify the past and put down the present. As usual, he is full of gratitude for our situation today. "The situation in the days of my boyhood was far different from the case today. Like [the distance between] heaven and earth. I was once interviewed on a Channel One TV program, and the interviewer said, 'Israel is full of religious education, but it is also full of datlashim - formerly religious people!' I replied: 'Let your ears hear what your mouth is saying: There are also formerly religious people! Decades ago the majority were formerly religious people! You have to understand that just a few decades ago everyone was traveling in just one direction: the off-ramp leaving the path Torah and the Mitzvot.

Boys and girls finished the eighth grade in a religious school, and that was the end of all their connection to Judaism. They were drawn to the big ideas of that era: building the Land, pioneering, Socialism; and it seemed to them that these ideas had nothing to do with the Torah. We would say, 'so-and so has taken off his hat' – because in those days the boys would go with hats, berets, in public. Who ever dreamed that religious youth would go on the street wearing a kipa? How can anyone not see what a revolution took place? Today there is a world of tremendous religious Zionist Torah that is unprecedented! We have an entire population; we have institutions and youth movements. Look at how much value there is in [religious Zionist] education; how effective it is and how much it influences."   

Are ‘formerly religious’ people today leaving religion for the same reasons as before?

"I don’t think so. Today, it is usually the religiously weak youth, those without a strong religious background; boys who went with a kipa but without any commitment to religious Zionist values. If there are internal values, you can stand up to all kinds of crises and difficulties, exposure to other influences and peer pressure. But if there are no values, a religious upbringing will not last. Some people are outraged when formerly religious people are referred to as 'captured babies’ [who never learned Torah]. They claim that that the formerly religious are people with great values who turned to another path after thoroughly investigating [religion]. But no one can convince me this is the reality. [In most cases] it is a weak youth who comes into contact with a particular social group, and finds it difficult to resist the peer pressure; so he allows himself to pulled along in order to fit in. What can you do? It is a sign of lack of character. It is important that we fill our students with substance and develop their character, [so they will have the backbone] to stand on their own."

Do you think that secularization is associated only through one’s encounter with another world, or can is be due to problems in the religious world itself?

"You cannot generalize. In most cases, it is about a weak character who could not cope with the reality around him, but there are also youths who were disappointed with the religious world, so they left. Rabbi Kook, of blessed memory, wrote long ago that people, by mistake, relate to Judaism through those who they see practicing it [rather than for what it really is]. Sometimes someone may encounter a rabbi that disappoints him, and because of it he projects that disappointment onto the values the rabbi seems to represent. One needs to make a distinction between a specific rabbi and whole of the religious world. It is the identification of Judaism with a specific individual that often creates the motivation to become secular."

Go to Part 2: Rabbis and Politics

Go to AFYBA Website

President Rivlin: “Israel is ready for a religious IDF Chief of Staff”

For the past 40 years, thousands of graduates of the YBA Educational Network enrolled in one of the many five-year Hesder yeshiva programs that combine Torah study with active duty in various IDF combat units, rather than going directly into the army after high school. 

However, in recent years, a third option has been growing in popularity among our graduates – Pre-IDF Mechina (Preparatory) programs. These 12 or 18-month programs prepare students mentally, physically and spiritually for the rigors of “meaningful and substantial” service in the IDF – code words for elite fighting units and combat officer training.


The result of this trend has been enormous – about 50% of combat officers in the IDF today wear the Bnei Akiva signature ‘kipa sruga’ (knitted kipa). Each year, the three Mechina Programs in the YBA network (Kiryat Malachi, Or Me’Ofir and Machon Yedidya) are actively Training Israel's Future TM by producing over 225 highly motivated IDF recruits.

President of Israel, Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin
During Chanukah, President Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin visited Mechinat Bnei David, the first Mechina program of its kind, located in the Shomron town of Eli, and had this to say about the disproportionately large number of religious officers in the IDF:

Students, let me tell you and repeat it again: you can become platoon commanders, company commanders, battalion commanders, generals and even the Chief of Staff or Israel’s Prime Minister.
In fact, I'm sure that in the not too distant future, a religious Chief of Staff will be appointed. But he won’t be appointed because he is religious, rather because he is the most competent; the most outstanding; the most driven to contribute; the best soldier in the IDF.

As a society, we are ready for a religious Chief of Staff, just as we should be ready for a Druze Chief of Staff. The outgoing Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, put it well when he said, ‘When I appoint officers, I don’t check what they are wearing under their helmet.’

Moreover, I want to tell you that Israel must never check what is under the helmet of its best soldiers; whether or not they have an accent; or what color their skin is.

If some of us fear that Israeli society is not ready for this, I would argue the opposite. In fact, I would demand the opposite! As long as we focus only on the litmus test of competence for the position, we will be able to find and appoint those who are the most talented, the most value-driven and the most motivated by a sense of mission. Thus will our society be enhanced.

This isnt a matter of waiting until the time is right. On the contrary, we must promote nondiscrimination, not just in the security sector, but in all public, economic and social sectors. We must promote individuals completely on the basis of objective criteria, and to act blindly towards extraneous considerations. Only in this way, through the actual practice of nondiscrimination, will Israeli society mature to adulthood.

We cannot demand the blood and sacrifice of different sectors, without allowing them access to leadership positions; to help navigate the ship of State. Every tank crew member must know that one day he will also be able to command.  Every female pilot needs to know that one day she may become the squadron commander. Every outstanding Arab doctor at Hadassah Hospital needs to know that he can one day be appointed to head his department. And every religious government trainee must know that one day he can rise to become the CEO of his ministry.”