Rafi Peretz Named as New Chief Rabbi of IDF, Replacing Avihai Rontzki

Rabbi Rafi Peretz is to replace Brig. Gen. Rabbi Avihai Rontzki as chief military rabbi this summer. Peretz, who heads the army preparatory program, Etzem, is a helicopter pilot and a colonel in the reserves. He will be promoted to the rank of brigadier general prior to assuming his new post.

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi decided on the appointment after consulting with Israel's chief rabbis. It was approved by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who met with Peretz on Monday, before the appointed was announced.

Peretz, 53, is a graduate of the Netiv Meir Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He enrolled in flight school and served as a transport helicopter pilot at a time when there were very few religiously observant pilot in the Israel Air Force. He continues to serve in the reserves as a flight instructor.

In 1992 Peretz established the pre-army preparatory program in the settlement of Atzmona, in the Gaza Strip. After the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip the program was relocated to Moshav Yated, in the Negev.

During the disengagement Peretz was among the leading figures in Gush Katif who spoke against violent resistance to the evacuation and against soldiers disobeying orders to evacuate.

He is a leading proponent of the "statist" approach among rabbis in the national-religious community.

Both the current chief military rabbi, Rontzki, and his predecessor, Yisrael Weiss, got in trouble for making controversial statements during their terms of service.

Weiss, who served in the post during the disengagement, found himself caught between rabbis who called for disobeying orders to evacuate Gush Katif, and his role in the military. Weiss said at the time that were former chief rabbi Avraham Shapira to order him to resign he would comply.

Rontzki, whose appointment was seen as an attempt by the IDF to reach out to Israel's religious community after the disengagement, came into conflict with senior officers as a result of his ideological positions. He angered many when he expressed opposition to women serving in the military and argued that religious soldiers were better fighters than secular soldiers.

Senior officers are hoping that the appointment of Peretz will introduce a moderating and calming note into the office of chief military rabbi, even though he is expected to face a difficult period.

Peretz will be taking over the position at a time when many religious soldiers are torn between their duty to help to enforce orders for the freeze of construction in the West Bank settlements, as part of their military service, and rulings by rabbis calling on them to refuse orders.

After his appointment was announced Peretz said that he hoped that "God will light my path in this place and that I will be worthy of this major position. I feel that IDF wants me to work toward bringing secular and observant Jews closer, and the people of Israel wants this very much. I very much appreciate being chosen by the defense minister, the chief of staff and the human resources officers. Those who have served as chief military rabbi before me were great Torah scholars, and I cannot yet say how well I will fulfill my role. I am certain that after I study the job I will have answers."