Former IDF Top Rabbi Raps Chaplain for Leaving Haredi Integration Program

Former IDF Chief Rabbi tells Haaretz: 'I would have released Rabbi Ravad from the IDF years ago. His loyalty to the system is almost nil.'

A former IDF chief rabbi has criticized the air force's top rabbi for resigning from a program integrating ultra-Orthodox recruits into the army, adding that the current IDF chief rabbi should do more to confront people who challenge his authority.

Air force chief rabbi Moshe Ravad announced on Tuesday that he was resigning from the Shahar project, which integrates hundreds of ultra-Orthodox annually into the Israel Defense Forces.

IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz - Nir Kafri - 05012012
Nir Kafri

Ravad's letter to the Personnel Directorate chief, which was leaked to a Haredi website, cited proposed changes to regulations on the service of ultra-Orthodox soldiers that were designed to support the soldiers' religious sensibilities.

Former IDF Chief Rabbi Israel Weiss told Haaretz: "I would have released Rabbi Ravad from the IDF years ago. His loyalty to the system is almost nil."

The Behadrei Haredim ultra-Orthodox website first published Ravad's resignation letter. Weiss noted that the editor - until a few days ago - was Dov Povarsky - a relative of Ravad and also a military chaplain. Weiss said Ravad's "dash to Hadrei Haredim" did not surprise him because Ravad had gone to the website when he served under Weiss.

Ravad's resignation increases the turmoil in the military rabbinate, which includes complaints by chaplains against the current IDF chief rabbi, Brig. Gen. Rafi Peretz. Peretz has been slammed for supporting a plan by a Personnel Directorate team to allow Orthodox soldiers to opt out of cultural events where women are singing, but to require them to be present at official ceremonies.

Weiss criticized Peretz for his involvement in the compromise, about which Weiss had reservations but now fully supports because the order allows the commander to use discretion. But Weiss also objects to Peretz's silence in the face of challenges to his authority.

"He should go to the media .... He should go out to the people now and declare that these are the boundaries of Jewish law. He should silence the ambiguity created by irresponsible movements and statements outside the army."

Weiss said he did not know whether Peretz was being prevented from speaking out or had decided on his own not to do so. Weiss conceded that he too would not "run to the media every time one issue or another came up." But Weiss said this was a case where "this erosion" had to stop.

Weiss said that during the Gaza pullout, when he was chief military chaplain, "the people were divided. I stood before officer cadets and I didn't let them refuse orders. A number of Orthodox cadets came to me and said, 'my rabbi said this and that.' I said the IDF has one mara de'atra" - an Aramaic term for a final local authority in Jewish law. "There is one rabbi, and only I will make halakhic [Jewish law] rulings in the army."

Weiss said Peretz should consult senior rabbis outside the army who would support him, those who have recently been criticized as being "too compromising." "There are a great many rabbis whose opinion is the same as Peretz's," Weiss said.

And what if the senior rabbis Peretz consults chose to avoid conflict with other rabbis over supporting Peretz? "You're right about that concern," Weiss said. "I saw it when I was in the army, when civilian rabbis said to me, 'it's your problem, you make a stand.'" I say to Rabbi Peretz, that's what you were created for. Where there is no man, try to be a man."