Dealing with Israeli army

In Israel, there is a mandatory draft into the army of males and females over the age of 18.  There are exemptions, or more commonly, deferments, but one has to quality for these.

Before we moved here to Israel, I made some calls to clarify what would happen to my oldest two children with regards to the army: my oldest daughter would turn 17 soon after moving here, and the initial enlistment notices arrive at that age.  My oldest son would turn 18 six weeks before arriving, and I wanted to be prepared in advance so we wouldn’t stumble into a situation that would force him into army service immediately after arriving.  (My husband is exempt due to his age and family size.)

(Those of you reading who are already getting upset by the mention of an 18 year old who isn’t interested in immediately serving in the IDF, realize that my children were raised in the US with no expectation or even concept of serving in the army and this is a foreign idea to them.)

Here’s what I was told.  Religious girls are given the choice of exemption or national service, but they need to bring proof from an Israeli rabbinate that they are in fact Orthodox.   Regarding ds18, I was told that as a returning minor, he had an automatic deferment for a year before he would be called up.

When dd turned 17, she got her pre-draft notice, and traveled to Haifa to the rabbinate to get authorization of her religious status.  Along with the notice was a note stating that the authorization needed to be mailed to the army.  But there was no address given!  She was given a date that she needed to show up for her pre-draft appointment, but dh called the office to postpone the appointment date to give the letter she sent time to arrive.   He was called a little later by an army representative, wanting to know why she missed her appointment date, and dh explained that it had been postponed to allow time for her paperwork to get there.

I didn’t know anything about this until the next day.  I got a call from someone who demanded, “Where is (name of dd)?”  I consider this very rude telephone protocol, and told them she wasn’t home that moment and that I’d like to know who he was.  He said they were calling from the army, and told me she missed her appointment with them.  I explained that her appointment date had been changed, and she had mailed her religious authorization in the meantime.  Suddenly he said to me, “Is your husband also an American?  Does he speak like you, with an accent?”  This same person had spoken to my husband just the day before,  and knew that we had taken care of anything, but continued on to tell me that if we don’t get the paperwork to them, they’ll (fill in the blank with some stuff that was supposed to intimidate me but I didn’t understand all the army terms except for ‘medical physical’).  Then he told me he’ll grant an extension until Mar. 1 (we already had an official extension and hadn’t missed the appointment but whatever).   When I got off the phone, I learned that he had told dh the exact same thing the day before, including making his ‘generous’ offer of giving us until Mar. 1 to have the paperwork in.  So much for efficiency – he didn’t even have the grace to be embarrassed to be threatening us for something we had taken care of already.  Anyway, hopefully she’ll soon receive her exemption.

Now as for ds18, whose situation is much more complicated and frustrating. Based on what I was told by NBN (and I think also the Israeli embassy in DC), I thought we had a year until he’d get a draft notice.  When we were getting Israeli passports for everyone else, ds17’s was delayed because due to his age, he had to get a temporary three month army deferment before he’d be allowed into the country.  So between the 3 month deferment and the one year exemption, I thought we were set.

Very soon after getting here (maybe six weeks?), ds18 received his enlistment notice.  This wasn’t what we were expecting, but were sure it would be quickly straightened out, since he is not only a returning minor, but a full-time yeshiva student (both of which would qualify him for a deferment).  This proved to be very positive thinking on our part.

Since my dh took care of all of this, I’m sure I’ll mix up the technical terms and the order of things.  So I’m going to fast forward from all that they’ve done to where we’re at today, except to say that what we were told about him getting an automatic deferment for a year was totally false.   Dh and ds18 have spent numerous hours on the phone and in person for the last few months trying to get things straightened out.  Really, you wouldn’t think this would be so complicated since thousands of yeshiva students have gotten deferments and it’s a common process.  Maybe as Americans there’s something we don’t know about how to work the system.  Ds18 finally got the necessary paperwork from the ‘committee for yeshivas’, went to a lawyer to take care of some other aspect, and traveled to Tiverya (Tiberias) from Jerusalem this morning for his appointment with the army to officially present proof of his being a yeshiva student to them.  (This appointment was postponed twice, since he was having trouble getting this paperwork from them.)

He spent six hours there, and in short, was told that they refuse to consider him a yeshiva student since the law changed yesterday – yes, yesterday! – and if he can’t document having been a yeshiva student since when he’s 15, it doesn’t matter if he’s a yeshiva student now.  As a homeschooler he’s had a yeshiva education at home for years, so you’d think there’s no problem, right?  Wrong.  The representatives at the army don’t understand the concept of homeschooling, and said that since ds wasn’t attending a yeshiva, he’s lost his right to be considered a yeshiva student for all of these years.  (By the way, he attended a recognized yeshiva when he was 14 and when he was 17, so the only issue is the years he was homeschooled as a tenth and eleventh grader.)

Ironically, part of the problem is that his official records are from a recognized homeschooling oversight program – this would readily be recognized at colleges across the US – but despite having transcripts for a full Judaic program, they won’t consider him as a yeshiva student.  He  graduated over a year before we moved to Israel, and at that point I thought I had researched all the possible complications and taken care that there was official documentation of everything.

The potential complications of homeschooling that no one ever talks about!

So ds18 had to go through the entire pre-induction process, including his army physical. They’ve notified him that he’ll be inducted in one month, which means that now I’m working against the clock to find a way to document his religious studies that will be recognized by the Israeli army.

I have to say that ds is taking this entire situation very well.  When I told him we were moving to Israel, he was very apprehensive about the army situation. I reassured him repeatedly by telling him as a yeshiva student, he’d be eligible for a deferment until he was ready to serve.  And then I did more research and was told that he would automatically receive a one year deferment.

I feel kind of like I’m leaving him holding the bag for a situation he was worried about getting into before we ever got here, despite having done all the right things; dh and I kept reassuring him (before we got here and since then) that it was a routine situation that would easily be taken care of.  When I told him today how sorry I was he was in this situation, he told me that he doesn’t blame me or hold me responsible in any way for it – he sees that it’s a beauracratic mess here.

So despite all our efforts, don’t have the situation with dd17 or ds18 resolved yet.  I’ll keep you posted when this is straightened out!


16 thoughts on “Dealing with Israeli army

  1. Exactly the same happened to my dd17 – and she was born here! She dutifully went to the rabbanut and signed that she was religious. We sent off the letter to the lishkat gius (IDF induction office) and once the date she had supposed to be at the lishkat gius on the original notice past, I got an angry call from the army. I explained she had already sent the letter. They accepted my explanation and then a week or two later we got another letter saying she must come to the lishkat gius on the new date or else she’d be arrested or something. Another phone call to them sorted that out, and a week or two later they sent her exemption.

    I kind of imagine some bored soldier with a pile of rabbanut letters slowly adding them into the computer when s/he feels like it, and who cares what happens meanwhile…

    About your ds18 – although I loathe politics, I would contact someone from Degel or Agudat Yisrael to handle it. They know how to do it and no one else can work the system.

    1. That’s good to know that others are dealing with the same inefficiency!

      Thanks for the suggestion about Degel or AY; I’m hoping we can avoid getting to that level of advocacy.

  2. Yeshiva student = Student who learns in Yeshiva
    It is already very difficult for Yeshiva students themselves to get exemptions (no, it’s not “automatic”) and I believe they have to show their attendance records.

    There is no way the Israeli Misrad Habitachon or even Lishkat Hagyuss would recognize homeschoolers as Yeshiva students. Homeschoolers are not Yeshiva students, they are homeschoolers.

    1. I realize that yeshiva students don’t automatically get deferments and knew we’d have to go through a documentation process; I just didn’t think that where he attended school as a 15 and 16 year old (!) would be an issue. He was a full time yeshiva student well before we ever thought of moving to Israel, so it’s not like he suddenly claimed to be a yeshiva student in order to avoid being in the army, you know?

      1. Thats crazy… and if someone is a baal teshuva and went to public school beforehand and only started yeshiva at age 17, they wouldnt get an army exemption??????????????? omg what is wrong with this picture….

      2. I’m not sure why I can’t reply to Ronit’s comment, but as far as I’m concerned there’s nothing wrong with this picture. What I think is happening, unfortunately, is your DS getting stuck in bureaucracy designed to week out the opportunist yeshiva students (oops, I don’t want to serve so I’ll say I’m BT and switched to yeshiva in the last year) from the real ones. There are kids who will do anything to get out of service including posing as yeshiva bochrim when they are as far from that reality as “the other white meat” is from being kosher.

  3. Wow, this is surprising. I thought that the question asked is whether he is currently in a yeshiva and not if he was in the past. I guess a chareidi Baal Teshuva might have a problem then.

    You might want to consider “worst case scenarios”, as in what will happen if he cannot get a deferment as a Yeshiva student. You probably are familiar with this already, but the 2 best options for religious boys are probably the nachal hachareidi or a hesder yeshiva. He might want to try a hesder yeshiva, as they typically spend the first year (maybe year and a half) learning before they start service. So, if he joined a hesder that might give him some extra time. Kerem BeYavneh is a great yeshiva (my husband did hesder there and loved the yeshiva) and has a nice American program, so he could be in a society with English speakers.

    Good luck,

    1. I also thought it was surprising – the new law might be that they have to show proof from age 15 and on. (We’re not clear exactly what the law change was that suddenly made his deferment difficult.)

      Ds is definitely not ready to consider what happens if he’s inducted. He told me he’s leaving the country if it comes to that, which I told him isn’t so simple at all and I don’t think it’s a good idea. He would probably do nachal charedi, not hesder – though it’s a good question, if he joined the hesder track if they’d give him extra time before actively having to serve. KBY is a great yeshiva, but since he has a good friend there, he knows it’s not a fit for him.

      1. He might not be able to leave the country even if he wanted to. When you are at draft age, when traveling out of the country, you must present an ishur from the army before they let you get on a plane. (Of course, even if he succeeded in leaving he would probably be arrested if he ever tried to come back.)

        I am assuming that the law change was the fact that chok tal, which is a law regulating army deferments for yeshiva boys, was declared unconstitutional by the supreme court earlier this week.


  4. Talk to LfE at JATP (I can e-mail you her # if you want to contact her IRL). Her sons all defer army to learn for a year in Yeshiva, and one moved into Hesder through that program. I don’t have any details as to how to do that, but it’s becoming more and more common to defer army for a year for this “mechina” program. There are many such programs in the country, and one is bound to fit your ds.

  5. Shalom,
    At worst sonerio there is a haredi platoon. I think they stay away from combat. I am not 100% sure, but talk to Miri about a contact that may be able to help. He visits the platoon when he comes back to Israel every so often.


    1. We know about nachal charedi, but ds absolutely doesn’t want to serve at this time. In a few years, it’s a different story. This is the time he has to apply himself very seriously to his learning without distractions. If he’s forced to serve, he’ll go to nachal charedi, but it’s not something we have to look into now.

  6. You’re not unique (unfortunately) . My daughter got a call one day about 6 months after we made Aliyah. They told her they were coming to arrest her unless she got to the office immediately. Her brother 2 years older went with her and they got a Rabbi to get her exemption. My son was also quizzed about being homeschooled. They couldn’t understand that he hadn’t just skipped school those years. He did get a deferment and went to yeshiva and got his shmicah (sp) now he’s in Nahal Haredi.
    Hang in there it will all work out, Most people don’t talk about this because you are considered a scab on society if you get a deferment. My family certainly isn’t anti military my husband is prior airforce and both of us are military brats. My son is enjoying his service, but he just wanted Yeshiva first.

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