Israel Should Get God Out of the Army

The colonel reads his troops the words 'Hear, O Israel, ye draw nigh this day unto battle,’ from Deuteronomy 20:3. Is this the Jewish Jihad Brigade?

Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav
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Praying on Tisha B'Av.
Praying on Tisha B'Av.Credit: Reuters
Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

Col. Ofer Winter, the commander of the Givati Brigade, is a thorough officer. Before going into Gaza he asked Kabbalists and yeshiva heads to pray for the operation’s success. “They promised to do it and asked me to take something upon myself – more mitzvoth, more enhancement of the mitzvoth,” the commander told military correspondents of the ultra-Orthodox newspaper Bamishpacha.

And so it was. “I decided to take it upon myself to pray the morning prayer with great purpose,” Winter added. “We’re in a combat situation, of nights without sleep, so sometimes the morning prayer comes after a sleepless night. It’s very hard, but I know it’s for the soldiers and I try to keep it up, lengthen my prayer and pray more intently.”

This needs to be discussed as part of the investigation into the war. There are concerns that the army of the people, in a process amazingly similar to the one in civilian society, is breaking up into tribes — almost militias — whose character derives from the values of the commanders and their initiatives.

“At this time of war of all times, when the desire to join the troops is strong, we must reiterate that what the Jewish people needs most is for the Torah students to sit and study Torah more strongly,” Winter explained. “The study of Torah protects the Jewish people more than anything. Those who can sit and study – that is their obligation.” Is this a new policy for the Israel Defense Forces?

Winter added that before going into combat he reads his soldiers the words “Hear, O Israel, ye draw nigh this day unto battle,” from Deuteronomy 20:3. According to the colonel, “When a person’s life is in danger, he gets connected to his deepest inner truth, and when that happens, even the greatest unbeliever meets God.”

That is missionary terminology of Gog and Magog heralding the end of days. The written message Winter sent his soldiers — he declared a religious war on the Gaza enemy who blasphemes against the Lord of Hosts — was just for starters. Remember his calls to the government; for example, “Just have them release the handbrakes for us.” According to his troops, at the end of the clash in which five Hamas fighters were killed, their brigade commander raised his hands to the heavens and said "thank you God.”

This ultra-Orthodox-Zionist ethic was fully expressed in the interview in Bamishpacha. Winter apparently felt at home. “A miracle like at the Battle of Khuza'a I’ve never seen in all my military career, “ he said, referring to a village east of Khan Yunis.

“We decided to attack the place before dawn so no one would notice us. But for some reason the soldiers were late. We didn’t know what to do; dawn was breaking …. Then suddenly clouds protected us, ananai kavod,” he said, using a rabbinic phrase combining the word for cloud with the word for divine presence.

“It suddenly covered us, all the soldiers, a heavy fog that accompanied us throughout the assault. No one saw us. Only when the houses were blown up that were to be blown up and there was no danger to our lives did the fog suddenly lift. Really, ‘for the Lord your God is He that goeth ... to save you,’” Winter said, borrowing from Deuteronomy 20:4. Has Givati turned into the Jewish Jihad Brigade?

On the day after the interview, by the way, three of Winter’s soldiers were killed, and an attempt to abduct the body of one of them was thwarted only because of heavy artillery fire and the killing of 130 civilians. This time the troops didn’t rely on miracles from heaven.

Winter may be a devoted and courageous commander, but the chief of staff must immediately relieve him of his field command. Let Winter be appointed head of the messianic Jewish Identity Administration that the IDF has set up. Any other option will be final proof that the IDF has gone crazy.

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