While the ultra-Orthodox public is up in arms against the "draft decree,"
figures released by the Israel Defense Forces present a slightly different picture: The year 2012 saw a 25% increase in the number of young haredi men who enlisted in the army as part of a program called Shahar, which stands for "Shiluv Haredim" (ultra-Orthodox integration) – 763 in 2012 compared to 608 in 2011.
It should be noted that an overall calculation of all haredim who joined the IDF points to a more moderate increase of 12.5% - 1,447 in 2012 compared to 1,282 the previous year.
Since the beginning of 2013, the army has received many requests from young haredi men to enlist as part of the Shahar project. The "Shahar Atal" program in the Technological and Logistics Directorate, for example, has already had three draft rounds since the beginning of the year, and another round will be drafted in a few weeks.
Shahar soldiers. Approaching fourth draft round since beginning of 2013
In the upcoming draft round, recruits will also include members of one of the biggest Hasidic movement in Israel, after the Rebbe himself instructed young men who were considering leaving the "kollel" (institute for full-time, advanced study of the Talmud and rabbinic literature) to enlist in the army instead as part of the Shahar program.
The instruction, however, was given to the young people themselves rather than issued as a public decision, so as not to violate the official defense system of the haredi public that made it clear to members of the Plesner Committee,
which discussed the issue last year, that there would be no official compromise which would see a drop in the number of yeshiva students deferring their military service based on the "Torah study is his profession."
The Shahar project began in 2007 after the Air Force decided, in an unprecedented manner, to try to integrate haredim into its technical workforce.
The young haredim, who are all married and about half of them have children, were offered unique service conditions, including strictly kosher food, working in a men-only setting, sleeping at home almost every evening, praying with a quorum, and – as importantly – receiving a salary higher than the minimum wage, known in military slang as "family payments."
The army was careful not to assign the enlistment program to young yeshiva students but to married ones. So as not to anger the rabbis, the IDF declared even on its official website that the project was intended "for those who have made a personal decision to end their studies at the yeshiva for the purpose of employment and to make a living."
Despite prominent haredi rabbis' objection to any compromise including the draft of yeshiva students, both the army and the haredi public realized that this project benefits both parties. The army, which is finding it difficult to recruit soldiers to its technical workforce, received soldiers with high religious demands but with a willingness to engage in a career service.
In light of the project's success, the Shahar tracks were expanded, and in addition to the Air Force program, the program has also been introduced in the Navy, the Personnel Directorate, the Technological and Logistics Directorate and the Intelligence Corps.
Despite the Shahar program's success, the number of young haredim joining combat service at the age of 18 is still close to nothing. For example, the Netzach Yehuda Battalion in the Kfir Brigade hardly drafts yeshiva students.
This brigade, which was originally founded in 1999 in the Nahal Brigade, and is therefore still called Nahal Haredi,
is mainly comprised of young men who have abandoned the haredi world, and some who have even left the religious world altogether.
A significant percentage of the soldiers in this brigade belong to the national-religious public and seek to serve in a unit with no female soldiers, strictly kosher food, Torah lessons and commanders who adapt themselves to the population.