Hesder Yeshivas to IDF Chief Rabbi: Continue to Instill Jewish Values in Soldiers

In reply to chief of staff’s intention to limit military rabbinate’s authority, yeshivas say they intend to ‘reinforce and strengthen military rabbinate’s status.'

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Israeli soldiers massing outside Gaza, praying.
Israeli soldiers massing outside Gaza, praying. Credit: Nir Kafri
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The Association of Hesder Yeshivot called Friday on Israel Defense Forces Chief Rabbi Brig. Gen. Rafi Peretz to continue to imbibe soldiers with 'traditional values, Judaism and fighting spirit,' in view of the army’s intention to limit the military rabbinate’s authority. This follows a report in Haaretz that Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot intends to limit the rabbinate’s involvement in educational activity within the Israeli army.

“In the recent period, in which there are those who want to harm the status of the military rabbinate, we ask to strengthen you and the military rabbinate who carrying out this work,” reads a letter sent by the association together with the religious pre-military induction program and the Association of High Yeshivot.

“We are strengthening your hand and call on you to continue promoting the rabbinate in its activities and instilling traditional values, Judaism and fighting spirit. The fact that the rabbis went into the field together with the fighters during Operation Protective Edge was a certificate of honor for the rabbinate, and added strength and bravery to IDF soldiers in the fighting.”

Hesder yeshivot sources said they intend to act to “reinforce and strengthen the status of the military rabbinate,” and also commented on the demand by the IDF’s chief education officer, Brig. Gen. Avner Paz-Tzuk, that military rabbis will not address soldiers’ swearing-in ceremonies. “We see this as a natural thing because the military rabbi and the Bible are an inseparable part of the swearing-in ceremony of a soldier in the IDF. The IDF is the army of the Jewish state in the Land of Israel – the State of Israel,” the letter reads.

As published Thursday, the chief of staff is expected to instruct the manpower division in the General Staff to reexamine the division of authorities between the military rabbinate and the Education Corps – two bodies struggling for influence in everything regarding soldiers’ educational activities.

Over the years, the military rabbinate has steadily increased its educational activities within the army, while competing with the Education Corps, biting away at its authorities and taking advantage of the fact that it had greater financial resources at its disposal.

These steps prompted harsh disagreements within the army and were criticized by left-wing MKs, who protested against what they described as a planned trickling of religious content into units and some cases of attempts at religious political preaching.  This process reached a peak during the tenure of Brig. Gen. Avichai Rontzki as the chief military rabbi.

The “Jewish awareness” branch of the rabbinate widened its activity within units, and even became involved in areas hitherto untouched areas, such as battle ethics.

During the tenure of Rontzki’s successor, Peretz, attempts were made to reorganize the authorities, and relationships between the two bodies improved.

However, the Education Corps continued to complain that in practice the rabbinate is taking advantage of the increased numbers of religious officers and soldiers in fighting units in order to increase its influence.

The previous chief of staff, Benny Gantz, returned at the beginning of his tenure in 2011 the wording of the Yizkor memorial prayer to its official state version (“Remember the people of Israel”), despite criticism from rabbis and MKs from religious parties, but during his tenure no real attempts were made to restore the status quo.

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