There are several different ways to enlist in the Israeli Defense Forces, be it via conscription, volunteering, a service program (such as Machal), and more. The length and type of service vary.
Most new immigrants are required to serve in the Israel Defense Force around a year after making aliyah, depending on their age, gender, and medical profile.
The amount of time a new immigrant must serve is based on their arrival date to Israel. A stay in Israel as a tourist or temporary resident, followed by two or more years out of the country, will usually not be counted. Additionally, participants on a Jewish Agency or Student Authority program for up to one year who then leave Israel for a minimum of 12 months will not have that year counted. In both cases, the date of your return to Israel acts as your arrival date.
Men – Army Duration
|Age of Arrival||Profile||Single||Married|
|Under 18||36 Months||36 Months|
|18-19||31-97||30 Months||18 Months|
|20-21||31-97||24 Months||6 Months|
|22-25||65-97||6 Months||6 Months|
Additionally, all men who are married with children are exempt from Army service, regardless of their age.
Women – Army Duration
|Age of Arrival||Unmarried||Married|
|Under 20||24 Months||Exempt|
Additionally, women who are married, pregnant, or parents are exempt from Army service, regardless of their age. Single women under 25 can choose to volunteer for the IDF, for a minimum of 12 months.
Bnei Mehagrim – Children of Immigrants
The army classifies Bnei Mehagrim as children of Israeli citizens who live overseas. Individuals born to Israeli citizens overseas, or those who left Israel with their parents before turning 16, are considered new immigrants if they returned after turning 20. As such they serve less time in the IDF.
In order to keep Ben Mehager status, you must be sure to not return to Israel for more than 120 days each calendar year. additionally, your parents may not return to Israel for more than 6 months each year. Bnei Mehagrim can also receive an “exemption year” (more than 120 days in Israel); however, this will require you to wait an extra year to receive an exemption.
Volunteering in the IDF
There are many people who choose to volunteer in the Israel Defense Force, despite being medically unfit, above the required age, or even without Israeli citizenship!
If your medical profile is too low, you can still choose to volunteer for the Army, if you receive approval from an approved Army physician.
Although you will be considered a regular soldier for most things, there are a few caveats:
- You will only be required to serve 12-18 months, although certain positions require signing on for a full two years.
- You will be unable to serve on a closed base, and are required to return home nightly – even during basic training!
- You will not be covered by IDF medical insurance, and will be required to get healthcare from one of the Israeli providers.
To volunteer, you must fill out the requisite form at Mador Prat, through your regional Lishkat Giyus.
Above the Required Age
If you came to Israel after the age requirement (26+ for men, 20+ for women), you can still choose to volunteer in the IDF.
To do so, you must write a personal letter explaining your wish to serve, and send it to the New Immigrant Office in the Lishkat Giyus.
Non-citizens may choose to volunteer in the IDF through the Machal Program. Required service in Machal is 18 months.
Immigrants who have earned a degree, or are in the middle thereof, are able to defer their studies through the Atudat Olim program, and potentially be placed in their field of study for the duration of their Army Service.
- New Immigrants or Returning Minors with a High school diploma from overseas, who begin their studies within 1.5 years of arriving in Israel.
New Immigrants may choose to study towards one degree only – a Bachelor’s if they come to Israel with a High School diploma, or a Master’s if they have already earned their Bachelor’s. They must complete their studies within three years of starting.
You may study in any academic institution in Israel, or registered Israeli branches overseas, with the exception of online degrees.
To apply for Atudat Olim, you must fill out the requisite forms, and attach the following:
- Official Letter of Acceptance to an Israeli institution.
- Up-to-date grades and credits, and projected date of graduation.
You should fax these forms to the Merkaz Sherut Kedam-Tzva’i (03-7388880).
At the start of each academic year, people approved by the Atudat Olim office, must reapply for a deferral – it is not granted automatically. Deferrals must be requested by September.
Individuals may defer for up to 4 years for engineering studies, and 3 years for all other degrees. An additional year may be granted in special circumstances.
The IDF may discontinue your participation in the Atudat Olim program for several possible reasons:
- Studies are halted, either for personal reasons or a failure to meet basic academic standards.
- Failure to request a deferral before the deadline.
- Failure to acquire the minimum required credits for the academic year.
- Changing degrees or institutions without IDF authorization.
Upon the completion of studies, students enter the IDF based on their service requirements. Although the army is not required to place individuals based on their field of study, soldiers who do enter their field are required to serve for up to an additional 2 years of keva (career services), where they will receive a standard salary.
Service Exemptions for Women
Whereas it is extremely rare for men to receive an exemption from military service, women can receive an exemption for any of the following reasons:
- She comes from a religious background or is leading a ‘religiously observant’ lifestyle.
- She is married, pregnant, or a mother.
To receive an exemption on the basis of religious observance, one must:
- Keep Kosher both at and outside the home.
- Not travel on Shabbat.
Women should get a statement to this fact from a Rabbinic Court, signed by a judge, and present it in person to the IDF Exemption Committee.