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A Double Tragedy

A boy was forced into the IDF against his conscience and was killed


It has emerged that Yosef Cohen, one of the two Israeli soldiers killed in a shooting attack at a bus stop near Givat Assaf in the West Bank on December 13, 2018, had refused service in the Israeli army, but was later tricked into enlisting.


Yosef Cohen with his father Rabbi Eitan Cohen

Nineteen-year-old Yosef was originally from Bnei Brak, where his father, Rabbi Eitan Cohen, a Breslover Chasid, worked as a dentist and was well known for treating numerous great Jewish scholars. After his father passed away, his mother remarried and the family moved to Jerusalem.


The details of Yosef’s story and how he was conscripted were revealed with the discovery of a recording of a telephone conversation between him and an activist from Yad L’hoshia, an organization that helps Orthodox boys who are caught in the army’s net.


Activists from this organization call the military prison every week and ask to speak with detainees wearing yarmulkas (skullcaps worn by religious Jews). They ask for their names, which are then published for prayer, and they lend them a listening ear and encouragement.


During one of these calls they came across Yosef Cohen, who related to the activist that he first studied at Yeshiva Ahavas Moshe, a Breslover Yeshiva in Beitar, but was persuaded by an undercover IDF recruiter to transfer to a high school yeshiva in Kfar Zeitim. This was a sly move to lay the groundwork for drafting him, since the new yeshiva did not meet the criteria for a draft exemption. Despite the fact that, officially, the IDF still issues exemptions for religious students, they constantly search for ways to revoke these exemptions using myriad legal details.


Yosef was then told that his status as a yeshiva student was revoked and he was required to enlist. He refused to enlist, and as a result he was sent to military prison for a month.


Eventually, the army officials misled him, telling him that if he gave in and enlisted, they would be able to issue him an exemption. He accepted the offer and was placed in the Nachal Chareidi brigade. When Yosef saw he was not going to receive the exemption, he escaped and attempted to leave the country. He was caught at the airport, arrested again and sent back to prison. During this second imprisonment, Yosef told the above story to the activist on the phone. In the end, his will broke and he consented to serve in the army.


The saga came to a tragic ending when Yosef Cohen was killed in a shooting attack that targeted Israeli soldiers, in the West Bank on December 13, 2018.