Longest-Serving IDF Chief Rabbi Gad Navon Dies at 86

Former IDF Chief Rabbi Brig.-Gen. (Ret.) Rabbi Gad Navon passed away Sunday at the age of 86. His funeral took place Monday afternoon at Jerusalem’s Mt. Herzl military cemetery.

Ezra HaLevi, | updated: 15:34

Rabbi Navon, the longest-serving IDF Chief Rabbi, was born in Morocco in 1920 and received his rabbinic ordination there before making Aliyah (immigrating to Israel) in 1948. He served as a combat soldier in the Negev region for the Palmach Brigade and was appointed Religious Officer of the brigade.

In 1950, he was appointed Religious Officer over the entire southern region, and by the 1960s, he had reached the rank of Lt.-Col. and become the rabbi of the Northern Command.

Rabbi Navon also served on the IDF Court of Jewish Law under the authority of the late IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren.

In 1971, with the retirement of Rabbi Goren and his election to the position of Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Navon was elevated to the position of Colonel and served as Deputy Chief Rabbi of the IDF under Chief Rabbi Mordechai Peron. He was elevated another rank to Brig.-Gen. after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and in 1977 he was appointed Chief Rabbi of the IDF – a position he retained for the next 24 years.

Following Navon's retirement, Rabbi Yisrael Weiss assumed the position of top IDF rabbinic authority.

Rabbi Navon was the longest-serving chief rabbi of the IDF and his military career lasted 52 years in all.

One Jewish legal decision for which Rabbi Navon was known included the move to declare IDF soldiers missing in action in the 1982 battle of Sultan Yakoub as dead.

In another publicized episode, Rabbi Navon prevented many full-of-food IDF warehouses from becoming non-kosher following an Israeli decision to send planeloads of food to famine-plagued Ethiopia during the week of Passover. The original list of supplies included "crackers, cookies, and biscuits" - food that had been sold to a non-Jew for the week of the holiday, when Jews are not allowed to own such products. Opening the warehouses would void the sale, Rabbi Navon ruled, rendering the chametz forbidden for consumption even after the holiday - and the warehouses stayed closed.

Rabbi Navon made sure to emphasize that this was not a life-threatening situation, since Kosher for Passover foodstuffs could just as easily be sent to Ethiopia. Then-Chief of Staff Sha'ul Mofaz decided, however, in a surprising and unprecedented move, to override Rabbi Navon, and ordered the chametz flown to Ethiopia. Rabbi Navon, unfazed, relayed the following message to Mofaz: "The moment that one of the warehouses that were sold to a non-Jew is opened, all the food in all the army's warehouses will be forbidden for consumption even after Passover. Do as you please." Mofaz backed down, and several tons of matzot, Pesach cookies, meat, and vegetables were sent instead to the starving Ethiopians.