IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz
IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz Monday accused religious figures of trying to subdue the Israel Defense Forces over ideological issues, turning recent flash points such as women's singing at army events into an "arm-wrestling competition."

"The only time I ever saw the army strongly object [to religious demands] was when people from our [religious] public decided to turn women's singing into an arm-wrestling competition," Peretz said, at a panel discussion in Jerusalem on religious soldiers and the IDF, organized by the newspaper Besheva.

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, head of the West Bank Har Bracha yeshiva, said at the conference he blamed Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and IDF officers for the clash between the IDF and the religious establishment. He said Gantz was neither a man of morality nor an educator, so should leave ideological issues out of the army.

Speaking to an audience consisting mainly of settlers, Peretz defended the new IDF orders obliging religious soldiers to take part in official ceremonies, even if they consist of women singing. The orders, which Peretz had participated in drafting, exempt these soldiers from attending unofficial events, intended mostly for entertainment.

Melamed, who has been castigating Peretz for weeks over his approach to religion in the IDF and even called for his resignation, said that while he supports military service for religious men, "if there's a halakhic [Jewish religious law] problem, they must refuse [to obey orders]."

"You have no idea how far this kind of talk could lead us," Peretz said, referring to threats of religious soldiers' insubordination in the army.

"We are in a very delicate situation. Many soldiers who guard many of the people in this room night and day do so although they don't believe in being there [in the territories]," he said. "They do it devotedly and with love, because they understand we have something in common above the differences," Peretz said.

Melamed believed it was "very important to preserve the army as an army, for the purpose of being an army. The IDF shouldn't educate, either to feminism or liberalism, in contrast to the chief of staff and head of personnel directorate's statements. They preach that the army shouldn't exclude women. Any saying of this kind is out of place. The chief of staff is not a man of morals or an educator. He should focus on what he does best and leave ideological matters out of the army.

"The main culprit is the chief of staff and officers in general," Melamed said.

"I hope Rabbi Peretz will represent us as the chief of staff's adviser on religious affairs and tells him how many people decide not to go to the army following [what he said].

"When the chief of staff and other officers punish someone for saying the halakha is above the [military] orders, they don't understand they're actually saying every religious soldier has a problem going to the army, because only religious people are bound by the halakha," Melamed said.