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Israel Is the World's Only Democracy With Religious Law So Instilled in Its Military

Haaretz Editorial
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Chief of Staff of the Israeli army Gadi Eizenkot and head of the IDF Military Rabbinate Eyal Karim on November 1, 2017.
Chief of Staff of the Israeli army Gadi Eizenkot and head of the IDF Military Rabbinate Eyal Karim on November 1, 2017.Credit: מארק ישראל סלם
Haaretz Editorial

The event: a party at a military post on Mount Hermon to celebrate the discharge of a soldier. The snafu: soldiers ordered pizza with sausage. The rapid response: “Two brigade commanders and the deputy division commander called me because they brought the pizza into the post.” The lesson: “The highest-ranking officers in the Israeli army get involved during a kashrut incident.”

The episode was related proudly some two weeks ago by the Chief Military Rabbi, Brig. Gen. Eyal Krim, during a speech before young men attending a military academy in Beit She’an. The averted pizza snafu was just one of many anecdotes. Krim who just two years ago was slammed for comments he made about raping women in wartime, expressing reservations about the recruitment of women in the army, and disparaging gay people made additional comments that add up to a sad truth: Israel is the only democracy in the world in which religious law plays such a decisive role in the military.

Krim also said that the Israeli combat soldier “is also a soldier in the wars of God, not just the wars of Hezbollah and Hamas.” The remark could be dismissed as rhetorical arrogance, were it not supported by a reality that lends support to such attitudes. After all, the army command did not call Givati Brigade Commander Col. Ofer Winter to order for telling his subordinates during Operation Protective Edge that they were going into battle against a blasphemous enemy. Moreover, the army command allows military rabbis to preach to soldiers before a battle and lets rabbis preach in the pre-military yeshivas and academies.

As a result, it is difficult to dismiss Krim’s paternalistic attitude to co-ed service. Krim claims that the army chief of staff promised that assignment to mixed-sex units would be voluntary for male soldiers, and require the Chief Military Rabbi’s approval. And in fact, the most recent Joint Service Order subordinates the military service of women to religious rulings, on the assumption that joint service violates principles of Jewish law. As such, religious male soldiers can opt out of serving with women, and it’s only natural that the Military Rabbinate be authorized to determine the limits of mixed service.

Furthermore, Krim did not exaggerate when he argued that just as the chief medical officer can block a soldier’s assignment if it does not suit his or her fitness level, so too the Chief Military Rabbi can block the assignment of a religious soldier if it violates religious law. Similarly, the military order regulating the growth of soldiers’ beards also points to the increasing role of religious law in the army. Growing a beard now requires a rabbi’s recommendation and is no longer the sole purview of the commanding officer.

The bleak conclusion is that Krim’s infuriating remarks are anchored in the new military regulations and in the overall mood projected by the commanders. Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot gave in to the pressure. And instead of stopping the destructive process, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman — ostensibly the secular member of the cabinet — is allowing it to continue on his watch.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.