ANALYSIS / Loud-mouthed rabbi reflects IDF's religious bent
A significant change is occurring within the IDF, and it has not yet been sufficiently analyzed.
Most Israel Defense Forces generals act like they have taken vows of silence. And then there's the army's chief rabbi, Brig. Gen. Avichai Ronski, the last big mouth at IDF headquarters. Ronski is increasingly perceived as someone who causes himself trouble, particularly on matters that other senior officers have been ordered to avoid by Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.
Over the past two years, the public has heard Ronski's views on a range of subjects, including some on the fine line between army and religion, or army and politics.
For example, the army rabbinate gave soldiers serving in Gaza a booklet that stated not a millimeter of the Land of Israel could be given up. Ronski says this happened without his knowledge.
The army also has let the right-wing organization Elad preach to soldiers about the Judaization of Jerusalem. And Ronski has said religious soldiers are better fighters than their secular colleagues. Now, Haaretz reporter Anshel Pfeffer has revealed that Ronski opposes drafting women.
All of this is happening as settlers and right-wing rabbis are becoming more involved with the army rabbinate.
In spite of this, Ronski can take credit for some very positive developments. He clearly reestablished the connection between the rabbinate and combat soldiers, after years when the rabbis were met with skepticism. Further, religious women serving in the army have said Ronski's rabbinate is much more supportive than those of his predecessors. It should also be remembered that the army rabbinate's wide-ranging activities are taking place in the face of a major vacuum left by the education corps.
A significant change is occurring within the IDF, and it has not yet been sufficiently analyzed. The face of the army, especially the middle ranks, has become more religious over the last decade. It's not just a matter of counting skullcaps at graduation ceremonies at Training Base 1, where religious soldiers account for 30 percent of infantry officer course graduates. The same process is playing itself out in most of the fighting units. As a result the IDF, and not just its chief rabbi, is speaking with a different, more religious voice.
Ronski was appointed by Dan Halutz, the immediate predecessor of Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, who wanted to bring the IDF closer to the sectors of the public that opposed the Gaza disengagement. Now, four years later, the disengagement seems to have pushed religious youth to apply themselves more within the army, in part due to the belief that their influence will be greater from within.