"W hy don’t you want me to go to the army?”

I looked my 18-year-old son, Avi, in the eye. “Because I want you to stay frum. And I’m afraid you won’t be able to stay frum in the army.”

We had been through a lot with Avi. Suffered with him through his difficulties learning Gemara. Cringed as his generous yarmulke shrank until it was barely the size of a child’s palm. Watched in alarm as his new friends introduced him to all that the Israeli street had to offer.

Through it all, my husband Sholom and I had managed to maintain a good relationship with Avi. We were honest with him, and he with us. So when he asked me why I didn’t want him in the army, I gave him an honest answer.

After floundering through too many yeshivos to count, Avi had finally found his place about a year earlier, in a yeshivah for Israeli baalei teshuvah. The fact that this yeshivah was hardly standard for a bochur from a chareidi family didn’t bother him or us. Torah is Torah. What difference did it make to us if Avi had chavrusas named Yaron, Guy, and Lior, so long as they were serious about growing in their learning and Yiddishkeit and were moving in the same direction we wanted him to move?

Sholom and I were thrilled that Avi was learning, happy, and starting to become serious about life instead of constantly wanting to have fun. We were also delighted that the rebbeim in his yeshivah were warm, accepting, and nonjudgmental, in addition to being outstanding talmidei chachamim.

Avi, at 18, was actually a lot younger than almost all his peers in the yeshivah, most of whom were post-army and in their 20s. But the age gap was more than compensated for by his strong background in Yiddishkeit and learning. His chavrusas may have been older than he was, but even with his difficulties in Gemara he could read a Tosafos a lot better than these beginners could. For the first time in his life, Avi was the head of pack — at least as far as learning was concerned. But now the army was exploding into our lives.

The problem wasn’t that Avi wanted to go the army. It was that we had no way of getting him out of army service. Finally, after years of sleeping late and barely showing up to shiur, he was shteiging. He knew himself well enough to recognize that he’d never learned like this before, and might never have a chance to learn like this again, and he felt he needed at least another year to strengthen himself in ruchniyus before venturing out into the world.

Avi was learning in yeshivah all day, and was therefore legally eligible for a deferment — dichui — from compulsory army service. But because most of the students in the yeshivah had already completed their army service, the yeshivah did not have an arrangement for its students to receive a deferment.

I spoke at length to Avi’s rebbeim and roshei yeshivah, and they all agreed that it would be a disaster for Avi to go to the army right now. “He’s doing really well,” one rebbi told me, “but he’s nowhere near strong enough to withstand the spiritual challenges of army life — even in the Nachal Chareidi or other religious battalions.”

But they couldn’t help us get a dichui. “We’re not recognized by the army,” the yeshivah’s administrator explained apologetically. “And to get recognized is a complex bureaucratic process, not the type of thing you do for one student.”

That answer made sense — except that the one student happened to be our child. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 656)