The beginnings of the mechinot (pre-military leadership academies) date to the 1988 founding of the first such institution, an Orthodox mechina whose mission was to create a framework to prepare young people from the religious Zionist community for more meaningful service in the IDF. The secular and traditional mechinot were founded in the wake of the success of the Orthodox institutions.
Today, more than twenty-five years later, there are some twenty-four Orthodox mechinot throughout Israel, with thousands of alumni who served or now are serving in the IDF. In addition to Orthodox mechinot for men, Tzahali, the first mechina program for Orthodox women, was founded in 2006.
These institutions serve young members of the various parts of the religious Zionist world who view their upcoming time in the IDF as an opportunity to fulfill a duty given meaning by religious values and a call to serve. The Orthodox mechinot aim to achieve the following goals:
Spiritually strengthen students through religious education that identifies the State of Israel as an early sign of the Redemption and advocates a proud Judaism that contributes whatever is needed to the nation of Israel and its land.
Bring together the religious world and the practical world during graduates’ military service and beyond.
Help students develop the halakhic competencies, intellectual skills, physical fitness, and psychological maturity to succeed in the army and in their pursuits following discharge.
The heart of the program is Torah study with attention to matters of both belief and practice, and an eye to developing students’ identity and ability to identify with the Torah and the people of Israel, and thus view contributing to the Jewish people and the State of Israel, particularly through military service, as an integral part of religious life as taught by the Torah.
In view of the fact that attendees tend to be young people of a practical bent, these programs include such components as field trips, athletics, navigation exercises, volunteer work, and community service.
After over two decades, the Orthodox mechinot have clearly shown not only that Judaism does not somehow complicate the lives and work of IDF soldiers, but also that Judaism gives added strength to the work needed to energize and cultivate the reconstituted Jewish state, as demonstrated by the exceptional percentages of Orthodox mechina alumni who serve in elite units, graduate officer courses, and continue contributing in public leadership roles throughout Israeli society.