A first-of-its-kind haredi-religious yeshiva has officially been accepted into the ranks of the IDF's hesder movement. Named Derekh Chaim (Path of Life), it combines not only Torah studies and military service, as in all hesder yeshivot, but also technological studies, with an emphasis on cyber-warfare.
Derekh Chaim was initiated by none other than the Defense Ministry's Security-Sociological Wing and the IDF's Manpower and Chief Rabbinate Departments, for the purpose of enabling young haredi men the opportunity for "meaningful IDF service."
The Rosh Yeshiva is Rabbi Carmi Gross, of the English-speaking haredi community in Beit Shemesh. The yeshiva is located in Moshav Nachalim, near Petach Tikvah, having moved there just recently after its previous site in Jerusalem proved unable to handle the burgeoning student body.
The four-year post-high school program in Derekh Chaim begins with two years of study, followed by two years of army service. During the first two years, the students learn various disciplines of Torah for 45 hours a week – plus another 20 weekly hours of technology study. During the third and fourth years, the student-soldiers are integrated into the cyber and intelligence divisions of the IDF; the former deals with protecting sensitive computer and internet networks, and the second deals with cyber attacks.
Derekh Chaim actually began nearly a year ago, but operated in relative secrecy in order to prove itself before haredi-religious opposition might nip it in the bud. Until its establishment, the only yeshivot which combined Torah study and military service were the growing number of religious-Zionist hesder institution.
Rabbi Gross formerly taught in the yeshiva high school Maarava, which faced similar challenges when it was founded and is now a successful educational enterprise and accepted fixture in the haredi public. Parents of Maarava students, in fact, provided some of the impetus for the founding of the new hesder yeshiva.
An additional course of study will apparently be opened in Derekh Chaim in the coming months – machine engineering and electrical engineering – at the request of the IDF's Merkavah and armored combat vehicles plant.