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IDF Lets Rabbis Blur Boundaries Between Religion and State

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29 Mar 09 | Ha’aretz

The plans to renovate the swimming pool at the army’s Bahad 1 officers’ school are not surprising, but they should be cause for concern. At first glance, it’s an issue of adapting to changing needs at the base as a result of the rising number of religiously observant trainees and officers. In practice, it is another ill wind blowing from the religious radicalization that is taking control of the Israel Defense Forces.

The new norm is light-years away from the IDF’s noble aspiration of permitting all people to conduct their daily lives in accordance with their needs – religious or otherwise – during their military service. The IDF has always created an environment that meets the needs of the religious, particularly in matters of kashruth, worship and Shabbat observance. Despite considerable difficulty, such as the need to violate the Sabbath for military exercises or operations, religious soldiers have been successfully integrated into the army.

The current demand for stricter observance, to accommodate the rabbis of the extreme right-wing, nationalist-ultra Orthodox stream, is not the natural result of the rise in the number of knitted-skullcap wearers in various IDF units and training bases. Rather, it is due to the persistence of a few rabbis whom the IDF allows to blur the boundaries between religion and state, and between the messianic and the military. These rabbis, whose strongest representative in the IDF is the chief military rabbi, Brig. Gen. Avichai Rontzki, seek to apply the worldview and lifestyle of the extreme side of the nationalist-ultra-Orthodox camp to the army of the people.

It is being done in a blunt, aggressive fashion: Soldiers and officers walk out of a performance featuring female singers for fear of transgressing against the religious injunction against hearing women sing in public. Rabbis – who have usurped the role of the army’s education officers – give pre-battle speeches in which they encourage combat soldiers to kill and destroy in the name of an angry and jealous God. And female soldiers, whose numbers on the battlefield have also risen sharply, are deemed to be a distraction that should be removed from sight.

Israeli society, including the IDF, has undergone enormous changes since the founding of the state. The official melting pot, with its strictly secular character, has given way to softened multiculturalism. Extremist elements who seek to impose a racist, chauvinist, separatist and dangerous agenda on the army and the state exploit this shift. The defense minister must stop this destructive process, revise the IDF’s regulations and redefine the army as an institution belonging to the entire society.


Written by Editors

29 March 2009 at 1:00 pm

Posted in Opinion, Palestine-Israel

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2 Responses

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  1. This blog’s great!! Thanks :).


    29 March 2009 at 6:37 pm

  2. […] IDF Lets Rabbis Blur Boundaries Between Religion and State (29 Mar 09) […]

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