Israeli Army Chief of Staff Plans to Curtail Powers of IDF Rabbinate

Sources say Eisenkot will take rabbis out of education, put Education Corps back in, after rabbinate criticized for attempting to preach religious, political messages to units.

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Shawled IDF soldiers pray in a staging area near the Israel Gaza Strip border, Nov. 19, 2012.
Shawled IDF soldiers pray in a staging area near the Israel Gaza Strip border, Nov. 19, 2012.Credit: AP

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot is planning to curtail the powers of the military rabbinate and limit its involvement in educational activities. He is expected to order the IDF Manpower Directorate to reexamine how authority is divided between the rabbinate and the Education Corps, which have over the past decade been engaged in constant struggle with each other, a dispute that also has political ramifications.

Over the years, the military rabbinate has continuously widened its sphere of educational activities, competing with the Education Corps and taking advantage of its superior financial resources. The trend has been harshly criticized within the army, as well as by left-wing Knesset members, who oppose what they regard as religious content seeping into the units, along with attempts to preach religious and political messages.

The process reached its height under the previous IDF chief rabbi, Brig. Gen. Avichai Rontzki. A unit called “Jewish awareness” at that time greatly increased its activities and went into areas that previously had not involved rabbis, such as ethics in combat.

Under the new IDF chief rabbi, Brig. Gen. Rafi Peretz, attempts were made to reorganize the division of power, and relations improved between the Education Corps and the IDF rabbinate. However, the Education Corps continues to complain that the rabbinate is taking advantage of a rise in the number of Orthodox Jewish officers and soldiers to increase its influence.

Eisenkot has said on a number of recent occasions in internal IDF discussions that “when we get mixed up navigating we return to the starting point. We are taking things too far and now we are taking a step back.”

A senior officer said on Wednesday in response to a query from Haaretz, “We will see to it that the rabbinate occupies itself with matters of the rabbinate and [the Education Corps] will deal with education.”

The senior officer told Haaretz that the IDF has to go back to the values set by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion regarding the service of Orthodox and secular soldiers together – that a “Jewish atmosphere” would prevail. This means that the laws of kashrut would be observed, that secular soldiers would respect the right of religious soldiers to pray, and religious soldiers would take part in the unit’s various activities.

The officer’s remark came two days after a storm of public protest in reaction to a report on Israel Radio that a soldier in a squad leader’s court had been sentenced to 11 days in military jail because he was caught eating a ham sandwich on base after returning from weekend furlough.

The army subsequently canceled the jail term, instead confining the soldier to base as a penalty. However, in a post on Facebook, Army Spokesman Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz conceded that the army had made a mistake in the penalty it had originally imposed on the soldier, a new immigrant from the United States. “We will continue to maintain kashrut on the one hand, but we will not go through a soldier’s sandwich, on the other,” he wrote.

Eisenkot’s view, that a sense of common ground must be preserved between male and female soldiers with a variety of religious perspectives, has also been seen in his decision last month to abolish the army’s all-Druze battalion. A group of Druze reserve officers are planning to petition the High Court of Justice against the decision. An IDF source said Wednesday, “If we had maintained the Druze battalion and insisted that Druze inductees who don’t want to serve there go there anyway, we would be discriminating and compromising the common ground.”

In response to Haaretz's report, Shahar Ilan, the deputy CEO of Hiddush, said, "The positions of Gen. Eisenkot and the examination he declared are praiseworthy and hopeful." Ilan said it would take a great deal of determination by army officials to "liberate the large territories that the rabbinate conquered form the IDF Education Corps."

He added, "It's very sad that over the past decade the IDF allowed the military rabbinate's mission to take control of a substantial part."

Comments