The Military Rabbinate’s Jewish Awareness Department recently ordered 25,000 books for Israel Defense Forces soldiers, ranging from an illustrated children’s prayer book to “The Industry of Lies” by journalist Ben-Dror Yemini.
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The rabbinate describes the volumes as “professional literature to strengthen the IDF’s fighting spirit from Jewish sources.” They will apparently be distributed as gifts to soldiers and army units.
The list has 49 titles, most of them published by Yediot Books. Several of them raise questions about their suitability for the stated objective. For example, it isn’t clear how an illustrated prayer book for children can be considered “professional literature” and how it is meant to strengthen soldiers’ fighting spirit. Similar questions could be asked about Yemini’s book, which criticizes the way local and international media cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hundreds of copies of both books were ordered.
Some of the volumes ordered explain basic Jewish concepts and analyze the relationship between Judaism in the Land of Israel and Judaism in the Diaspora. There are volumes dedicated to military issues from the point of view of various rabbis. Some are biographical works – for example, the book “Belevav Pnima” (“Deep in the Heart”) by Ze’ev Karov, tells the story of his son, paratroops officer Aharon Karov, who has recovered after being seriously wounded during Operation Cast Lead, only days after his wedding. Other volumes with personal stories include “Vekaratem Dror,” the story of Col. Dror Weinberg, who was killed in battle in Hebron in 2002.
There are also books based on stories from Rabbi Nahman of Breslav. The book “When You Hear a Story It’s Different” by Zvi Eyal deals with handling life’s vicissitudes and personal growth through stories of Rabbi Nahman, and the book “Honey From a Stone” samples the rabbi’s insights in “a manner that’s clear and easy to understand.”
No response from army
The IDF did not respond when asked about the cost of the books or the source of the funding for their purchase. Nor did the army say what the criteria were, if any, for approving the purchase of 25,000 volumes.
The activities of the Jewish Awareness Unit have been the subject of debate in recent months. Haaretz reported last month that IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot’s had directed the army look into limiting the influence of Military Rabbinate, which provides materials and organizes programs of Jewish content for soldiers.
The army had initially proposed transferring those responsibilities to the Education Corps, but opposition from a number of rabbis has led it to seek an alternative solution. One proposal would involve transferring the branch to the direct command of the Manpower Directorate, thus limiting the influence of the Education Corps on the branch’s activities.
Last week Manpower Directorate chief Maj. Gen. Hagai Topolansky summoned IDF Chief Rabbi Brig. Gen. Rafi Peretz and Education Corps head Brig. Gen. Avner Paz-Tzuk to discuss the matter. Among the options discussed was that the department would not be transferred to the Education Corps, but instead a new body would be formed to be jointly administered by the rabbinate and the Education Corps, under the authority of the Manpower Directorate.