Academic Reserve for ‘Sherut Leumi’

Everyone is meant to realize his talents in order to perfect the world in the kingdom of God as well as women, who can contribute to society and science * Torah, mitzvot, and family life are not meant to be an obstacle for women who wish to advance, but rather a source of blessing * The main obstacle to realizing women’s talents is the period of ‘Sherut Leumi’ (National Service) * The solution: academic studies should precede ‘Sherut Leumi’, followed by a period of contribution to the community in exchange for a reduced salary * An academic reserve program for ‘Sherut Leumi’ will streamline the service, and make it more efficient and professional * The road to realizing the idea will begin in the upcoming school year

The Ideal of Realizing Women’s Talents

The ideal is for every person to realize all his talents for the purpose of ‘tikun olam’ (perfecting the world) in the kingdom of God. In this way, one merits revealing the image of God within him, and becomes a partner with God in the world’s continuation and improvement.

In light of this ideal, this article will deal with the challenge faced by women exhibiting academic talents, including: the building of one’s personality through Torah study in the fields of ‘emunah‘ (faith) and halakha (Jewish law), establishing a praiseworthy family, utilization of talents in the fields of research, development, or profession – each woman in the field that best suits her.

This challenge has emerged in recent generations. Thanks to technological advances, the amount of time and effort required to maintain a family household has decreased and become relatively easy. In addition, because most of the household work no longer depends on physical strength, women can excel in many different fields in which intellectual and inner talents plays a central role. The question is how to fulfill both challenges successfully: on the one hand, the building of ‘emunah‘, Torah, and establishing a praiseworthy family, and on the other hand, utilization of one’s talent for the purpose of developing the sciences, society, and economy in light of the Torah.

Today in Western culture, talented and successful women usually neglect the importance of family. Many of them remain single or marry at a later age, without having children. The more outstanding and successful they are, the higher the percentage is of women without children – not to mention the entire question of Torah and mitzvot, of which they absolve themselves completely.

The Blessing of the Torah Way

We believe that Torah study and observance of mitzvot, along with the establishment of a praiseworthy family, will benefit all fields of science and economy, as we say in the second paragraph of the Sh’ma: “If you are careful to pay heed to my commandments, which I am prescribing to you today, and if you love God your Lord with all your heart and soul, [then God has made this promise]: I will grant the fall and spring rains in your land at their proper time, so that you will have an ample harvest of grain, oil and wine…” (Deuteronomy 11:13-14). The meaning of the words “fall and spring rains in their proper time” that produce the crops of the fields, must be interpreted in each generation according to its concerns (similar to what the ‘Shlelah’ writes about the matter of reward and punishment explained in the Torah.) If so, the “rain” falling from heaven in our generation can be interpreted mainly as the inspiration for development of science, economy, and society. The “grain, oil, and wine” that grow by virtue of this are the food for our sustenance (‘grain’); joy, inspiration, and creativity (‘wine’); and a fulfilling life with prosperity and meaning (‘oil’).

‘Kiddush Hashem’

It is worthwhile adding that Israel’s main ‘Kiddush Hashem’ (sanctification of God) in the eyes of the nations is achieved through the development of science in the light of Torah, and as it is stated: “Safeguard and keep [these rules], since this is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations. They will hear all these rules and say, ‘This great nation is certainly a wise and understanding people'” (Deuteronomy 4:6). For in truth, the words of the Torah themselves are intended for Israel, but the abundant blessing flowing from them to all the sciences is evident to the nations of the world, and as a result, Hashem’s name is sanctified in the world, and humanity is inspired to walk in the ways of Hashem. Likewise, we learned in the Talmud about the value of the study of science: “One who knows how to calculate the cycles and planetary courses, but does not, of him Scripture says, ‘But they regard not the work of the Lord, neither have they considered the operation of his hands’ (Shabbat 45a), and this does not refer only to the wisdom of astronomy, but to all secular wisdom (Maimonides, Maharal, the Vilna Gaon, and others).

How to Combine All of This

The big question is: How can religious women who devote time to Torah, mitzvot, and establishing praiseworthy families, be front-runners of global science while having to contend with the most talented people worldwide, as well as secular Jews in Israel? We believe, however, that when science is learned in conjunction with Torah and family values, it receives blessing, and is of higher quality, profounder, and more beneficial to humanity. All this, provided the students are focused on the goal, and do not waste time.

The Critical Years: Ages 17-22

One of the problems impeding the ability of young Torah-based women to fulfill their academic talents is the period of ‘Sherut Leumi’ (National Service). This usually lasts for a year or two, and sometimes an additional year of study in a ‘Midrasha’ (seminary) during the most critical period of a young woman’s life. While academically outstanding women in Western countries finish their doctorate at the age of 24, in Israel, because of ‘Sherut Leumi’, everything is postponed for several years. Not only the time devoted to ‘Sherut Leumi’ delays, but the very fact that a talented young woman is not required to plan her track of progress continuously from her high school years, hinders her ability to plan rapid progress suitable to her talents. She could have completed her bachelor’s degree at the age of nineteen, but this never even crossed her mind. Thus, young women who excel academically begin thinking about the direction of their development in scholarship only from the age of 20 and above, and because marrying is a greater mitzvah, the brilliant career they could have had is wasted. They will become excellent teachers, perhaps they will be able to advance in academia, but only a very few number of them will succeed in realizing their full potential. And the reason is not because they have to invest time in Torah, mitzvot, and establishing a family – this investment, we believe, brings blessing – rather, mainly because the valuable years between the ages of 17 and 22 were not used optimally, in order to place them on the runway necessary for academic development, and the building of a social status enabling a welcome influence.

Academic Reserves for ‘Sherut Leumi’

The value of volunteering in ‘Sherut Leumi’ is important, and therefore, we are fortunate that the young women of the National-Religious sector do not want to shirk their service. However, in order to realize the grand vision of utilizing one’s talents for the glory of the Torah, the nation, and humanity as a whole, there is a need for an “Atuda Sherut Leumi” (an Academic Reserve for National Service).

In this framework, young women will be able to begin their academic studies immediately after high school, and after the period of study – whether it be at the end of a first, second, or third degree – they will contribute to society in the field they studied, and be paid half of the usual salary for their work. The various sums of money that the state invests in the young women serving in ‘Sherut Leumi’ or in the army, will be given to participants in the ‘Atuda Sherut Leumi’ program, in order to help finance their studies. Such a program will be extremely profitable for the state, both economically and socially.

Additional Benefits of the Program

This program can also solve other problems: it will enable girls who have grown-up in low-income families to soar professionally, for the glory of their family, and country. It will allow girls who, after ‘Sherut Leumi’, are torn between two desires – to marry at an early age, or acquire a quality profession demanding exhaustive studies – to combine the two values ​​together, for already at the age of 21 they will be able to marry while finishing their bachelor degree. From this position they will be able, relatively easily, to pursue a master’s degree and a doctorate.

The Economic Benefits for the State of Israel

Economically as well, the program will benefit the State of Israel, because from a purely economic point of view, women’s army service and ‘Sherut Leumi’ does not pay. It would have been preferable to hire workers to do all the required jobs more efficiently, and eliminate the hidden unemployment that is costing a fortune; and this, in addition to delaying the entry of young women into the educational and work force, which also reduces the GDP by approximately 5% – which is the contribution of women to the country’s economy.

The reason for the continuation of mandatory army service – and consequently ‘Sherut Leumi’ as well – for the entire population, even though it is not economically profitable compared to a professional army, is principled: 1) In order to involve the entire public in contributing to the state. 2) To give expression to the value of equality between men and women.

By way of the ‘Atuda for Sherut Leumi’, each young woman will make a significant and far-reaching contribution to the state, both economically and socially, for in truth, her contribution will be considerably larger if she volunteers in the same hospital as a registered nurse, or a doctor. And a certified teacher will contribute more to a school than a volunteer; and an attorney or an accountant can contribute more to the needy than a volunteer who has not studied the profession. Similarly, a researcher at a university can contribute much more to the advancement of students and research, than on a voluntary basis in which she does not express her full talents.

Achieving the Program

In order to implement the program in the best possible manner, it would be fitting to establish a team within the framework of ‘Sherut Leumi‘ to examine the universities in which it is possible to initiate preferred learning tracks within a suitable atmosphere for religious women from the Torah-based public. This team would choose the preferred professions in terms of their contribution to society, pool all the various budgets intended for the young women participating in ‘Sherut Leumi’ or army service, and determine the method of assistance during their studies – this, in exchange for the period of volunteer work for which they will receive half of the average salary customary for such work. This volunteer work will most probably be performed with great dedication, seeing as the volunteers will be aware that the more they contribute, the more likely they will be accepted for a permanent job.

The greater the number of young women from the Torah-based (Chardal) community and young women from low-income families who are able to realize their talents in meaningful academic studies, the more society as a whole will benefit. In addition to this, it will be a great ‘Kiddush Hashem’ when it becomes apparent to all that loyalty to Torah and mitzvot – including family values – does not impair one’s ability to express her talent in the best possible way, rather, the exact opposite: it enhances the blessing in family, work, and in research – for the glory of Torah, the nation, and the Land.

The Program in Har Bracha

In order to help a little in achieving this vision, a program for young women who excel in academic studies that are interested in ‘Atuda for Sherut Leumi’ will be established next year in Har Bracha. The program will include educational assistance and meaningful Torah study. At the moment, we are working on arranging the program within the various frameworks, and also enlisting public figures who expressed their support for the program. At the same time, young women after their ‘Sherut Leumi’ who excel academically will also be able to join the program.

We hope we will be privileged to see our daughters enlighten the world with their wisdom, out of modesty and holiness, until all those who see them will recognize the Torah’s blessing.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at:

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