Editorial

Rabbis Who Strive to Shape the Military's Image

It is not enough to condemn the statements of heads of pre-military academies and hesder yeshivas who are undercutting the military. Israel must limit their unofficial power by law.

Premilitary academy head Yigal Levinstein at a conference in Jerusalem in July 2016.
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The speech given by Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, one of the founders of the Bnei David pre-military academy in Eli, has aroused a protest over its contents. But even more than that it teaches from the primary source how Haredi-nationalist Zionism, which controls a broad network of IDF-affiliated hesder yeshivas and pre-military academies, has strived to shape the military in its own image.

Alongside his statements about LGBT people as “perverts,” Levinstein laid out his doctrine as to how the IDF needs to look, in his opinion. In order to fight the removal of the Jewish Identity Branch from the control of the Military Rabbinate, Levinstein has called to establish a department for developing Jewish awareness in the hesder yeshivas and pre-military academies, and then “we will fill the army with battalions of believers” who will busy themselves with being religious missionaries.

Levinstein said the graduates of these institutions must be encouraged to show pride and confidence in rabbinical law, along with the willingness to pay the price for that. Levinstein even called to fight the Military Advocate General’s Corps, which is pledged to uphold the laws limiting harm to enemy citizens, and to encourage the graduates of the academy to enlist in the MAG. In openly doing so, Levinstein expects the religious military lawyers to demonstrate loyalty to religious values, and not to the provisions of the law that guides the MAG.

Some 1,000 officers have graduated so far from Levinstein’s pre-military academy. They were educated in the values reflected in his lectures, and are expected to serve in the military as missionaries fighting against the supposed secular degeneration that has spread throughout it. Senior officers have an important function, for example the commander of the Givati infantry brigade Ofer Vinter, who in a letter to his soldiers called on them to fight in Gaza against an enemy who blasphemed God. “We are all Ofer Vinter,” declared the rabbi, and called for him to be viewed as a model “whose spirit is the spirit that brings victory.”

These influences are not unique just to the academy in Eli, whose founder, Rabbi Eli Sadan, was awarded the Israel Prize this year for his achievements. The heads of the religious academies conduct regular dialogues with the leaders of the military, and when necessary, the rabbis intervene directly with commanders of the army, leveraging their influence over hundreds of their recruits, as Levinstein says he did by preventing the performance of gays at the military officers’ school.

These are worrying expressions of theocratization of the military that has been going on for the last 20 years, and which has also been expressed in the appointment as chief military rabbi of Rabbi Col. Eyal Karim, who, in a Q&A with the Kipa website, spoke of the halakhic (rabbinical law) permission to rape non-Jewish women in time of war, and of the necessity to execute terrorists. Levinstein’s comments on the “moral confusion” common in recent days are the cry of the “robbed Cossack” who aspires to complete his takeover of the military.

It is not enough to condemn the statements of these rabbis. Because they are allocated funds from the education and defense ministries, the government must start supervising the educational content in these institutions, and limit by law the unofficial power of the heads of the pre-military academies and hesder yeshivas to influence the military.