The Israeli army is investigating whether a rabbi, whose weekly religion lessons were stopped last October and have since resumed, is raising funds in conflict of interest through his NGO.
Rabbi Peretz Einhorn is head of a non-profit association, established in 2012, the purpose of which, as listed in the documents submitted to the NGO registrar’s office, is to “accompany Israel Defense Forces soldiers by means of a website, articles and books to strengthen their motivation to serve in the army and contribute to the state with great spirit.”
According to military officials, Einhorn serves in the rabbinate in the reserves. The fact that Einhorn is raising money for activities for soldiers, as a reserve soldier who receives payment for reserve during, is not common. The orders involving contributions in the army, which have been formulated in recent years, are meant to regulate this situation.
The NGO’s fundraising material states that the goals of the campaign are “to allow the expansion of the blessed activities that strengthen religious soldiers, give them a sense of happiness, purpose and motivation and maintains their spiritual readiness.”
The association also cited its goals as “financial support to needy and lone soldiers and soldiers with social problems, physical and psychological help to IDF wounded veterans,” and assistance to their families.
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Einhorn recently launched a crowd-funding campaign for the organization, with the intent of raising 1.5 million shekels. Einhorn has so far raised 335,700 shekels. The association’s budget grew from 32,359 shekels ($8,960) in 2013 to 78,463 shekels in 2016. No figures were available for 2017.
The reason given for the decision to cancel Einhorn’s lessons, made in October 2017, was that they were taking place in a parking lot outside the IDF instruction center and no lessons of any kind were to be given in the lot.
The army says that Einhorn’s activities are now coordinated with the military rabbinate and are directed by the chief military rabbi, Brig. Gen. Eyal Krim. “I worked hard to bring back the lessons,” Krim told a group of pre-army young men about a year ago. Krim said “the issue of [financial] contributions” first had to be settled.
Einhorn distributes Torah scrolls to soldiers and produces apparently costly video clips for the internet, in which he publicizes what he does in army camps. In the videos he claims to have visited more than 70 bases and says that hundreds of soldiers have studied a tractate of Talmud and thousands of soldiers have studied Gemara. He also says that more than 100,000 booklets and books have been handed out to soldiers.
Einhorn also holds Torah study days through his organization for soldiers and for young men before they are drafted. Rabbis give sermons at these free events, at which refreshments are served. At the last such event, one of the speakers was Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira, who it had reportedly said on another occasion: “If you come to a place where there is a clash between an order and Jewish law, we will be with Jewish law.” Also on hand was Rabbi Tzvi Kostiner, the head of the Mitzpeh Ramon hesder yeshiva, who in the past has come out against women serving in the army.
Einhorn has said that among the rabbis who inspire him are Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, who has reportedly said harsh things about women serving in the army and refusing orders. Einhorn apparently tries not to go into these issues with the soldiers or in his videos, but interviews he has given to the media in the past reveal, the direction taken by Einhorn, who is admired by religious soldiers.
Einhorn said in one interview: “I had a student to whom a [woman] officer would come ... driving him crazy to talk to him ... one time she came and closed the door to the room and like Joseph the righteous, the student, a holy man, jumped a story and a half out the window and broke his leg. True story.”
Einhorn said that during his own basic training he “wrote little letters to his [female] non-coms that I really appreciate them and that they shouldn’t get insulted when I don’t speak to them because I don’t talk to girls. At the end, they wrote me that I’m amazing.”
The army’s decision to stop Einhorn’s teaching was met with complaints and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot was pressured to allow the lessons to continue. Several Knesset members, among them, to name a few, Tzipi Hotoveli, Yehudah Glick, and Akram Hasoon (Likud) as well as Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) and Yakov Margi and Michael Malkieli (Shas) signed a petition to bring Einhorn back. Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau wrote a personal letter to Eisenkot on the matter, and a petition asking to restore Einhorn’s lessons was also signed by 2,000 mothers of soldiers.
Rules have recently been issued by the chief of staff about lectures to soldiers by rabbis and Orthodox officers, which are given in synagogues on army basis. The rules state that these lectures should be given only by IDF rabbis in the career army or in the reserves, or civilian rabbis who have been given specific permission to do so by the chief military rabbi.
The IDF spokesman’s unit responded: “Rabbi Peretz Einhorn gives Torah lessons in the army according to orders and procedures in the military rabbinate. Rabbi Einhorn’s lessons that had taken place outside the military instruction center in the parking lot were stopped last October and indeed no lessens have taken place in the parking lot since then.