The IDF and Iran's Common Take on Religion

The previous military rabbi talked about developing Jewish awareness among Israeli commanders and soldiers – all of them, not just religious ones. And that's just one example.

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In the first article of "The Beret and the Kippa,” the 2009 book edited by Moshe Rachimi that discusses the increasing religiosity in the Israel Defense Forces, Dr. Elisheva Rosman-Stolman compares the attitude on religious soldiers in armies around the world.

In Turkey, which we think of as an extremist Islamic state, the army, in which service is compulsory for men, enforces secularism on all its soldiers. In the Turkish army “a mustache and beard are not allowed … [and] a religious soldier can fulfill the obligations only in his own private time …. Graduates of religious schools are not accepted for officer training,” Rosman-Stolman writes.

In contrast, in Iran, where service is also compulsory for men, “Intensive Muslim indoctrination of the army began immediately after the revolution, with religious functionaries attached to units.” Their task was "to provide for the needs of the soldiers regarding knowledge of Islam.” Actually, according to Rosman-Stolman, the functionaries work to “persuade soldiers to fight for Islam,” and “the strong civil-religious system forces the military to behave."

And what about Israel? According to the author, "The IDF is tolerant toward religious soldiers of all faiths, but there is no doubt that Judaism has preference. This tolerance is magnified by the existence of strong mediating structures (yeshivas, preparatory programs) and internal army structures (the military rabbinate).”

But does Rosman-Stolman’s conclusion reflect what's really happening in the IDF? She writes that in the United States a military chaplain must protect the right of all soldiers to full religious freedom, whether the soldier belongs to a defined religious group or does not believe at all.”

And what about IDF soldiers who are Jewish according to Jewish law but are not believers? Are they allowed religious freedom? Can they, or even soldiers who are not Jewish by Jewish law (and who would be interred beyond the special fence), not take part in a Passover seder, for example? No. The Passover seder, a religious and not a military ceremony, is a requirement; soldiers who do not attend are punished.

And can soldiers who are atheists not take part in lectures by IDF rabbinate officers who "provide for the needs of the soldiers regarding knowledge of Judaism” but actually “persuade the soldiers to fight for Judaism”? Of course not. That is also a sacred military obligation.

“From the outset, the Chief Rabbinate was put in charge of seeing to religious needs in the IDF,” Col. (res.) Dr. Ze’ev Drori writes in Rachimi's book. But over the years, other goals were added. The IDF's previous chief rabbi, Brig. Gen. Avichai Rontzki, added the goal of “development of Jewish awareness among IDF commanders and soldiers” – all of them, not just religious ones.

Moreover, Drori writes that when he was commander of the Givati Brigade, the hesder yeshivas (which combine religious studies with army service) “interfered and decided which hesder yeshiva soldiers would go on to officer training, despite previous agreements with then-Chief of Staff Moshe Levi regarding suitable candidates.”

And so the difference between the IDF's stance on religion and its obligations (in the settler-messianic version in which “the wars of the IDF are defensive wars”) and Iran's stance on religion and its obligations is very slim indeed. And Haaretz's April 22 editorial “Scrap the IDF rabbinate” is actually a joke because it will be the military rabbinate that scraps Haaretz, not the other way around.

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

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