Rabbi Rafi Peretz, who has been named to become the next Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, tells Arutz-7, “I am happy to be criticized for having too much love for the IDF.”
Rabbi Peretz is the head of the Otzem pre-military yeshiva academy, which was located in Atzmona, Gush Katif, until it was razed in the disengagement/expulsion of 2005. It has since been relocated to Yated, in the Halutza Sands area south of Gaza. Rabbi Peretz, an IDF helicopter pilot, is known for advising his students not to refuse orders to take part in the expulsion.
Rabbi's Low Rank
A Lt.-Col. in the reserves, Rabbi Peretz will be promoted by two ranks to Brig.-Gen. when he takes on the job of Chief Rabbi – two ranks lower than the IDF’s first Chief Rabbis, who were Major-Generals. Only from the year 2000 have the army’s Chief Rabbis - Rabbi Yisrael Meir Weiss and outgoing Chief Rabbi Avichai Ronsky – been of the rank of Brig.-Gen. In 2003, when it was decided to incorporate the IDF Chief Rabbinate into the army's Personnel Branch, Knesset Members of the National Religious Party met with the Defense Minister – who happened to be Ehud Barak, then as now – and complained of the loss of the army’s independence; then-MK Sha’ul Yahalom also took the opportunity to lament the fact that the Chief Rabbi was no longer of the 2nd-highest rank in the army. Nothing was done regarding this, however.
Rabbi Peretz said, “I see this position as a true mission, and I feel that I have come into a heavy responsibility. It is a great honor to fill the shoes of great Torah giants before me, such as Rabbi Shlomo Goren and Rabbi Gad Navon, of saintly blessed memory, and I thank the Chief of Staff [Maj.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon] and the Defense Minister [Ehud Barak] for the trust they have placed in me. There is apparently a true desire to join the two extremes.”
Rabbi Peretz is considered a dynamic and much beloved Yeshiva Dean. “I have the privilege of being in a special world,” he said, “flying on the one hand, combining professionalism, values, and staying-the-course, and the Torah world on the other hand. I don’t intend to stop my work in the Otzem academy, and I plan to be there on Shabbatot. We will make sure to find a suitable replacement for the position.”
Embracing and Refusal
Asked about his controversial stand regarding the soldiers who came to evict his yeshiva during the Disengagement – some of his students embraced the soldiers who came to expel them – Rabbi Peretz said, “If I am criticized for loving the IDF and the Nation of Israel too much, then I am willing to pay any price for this.” In fact, he is being criticized for his embrace of the expelling forces, and many in the nationalist camp oppose his appointment because they feel he will not take a strong stand if and when Jewish and army values clash.
In other interviews, Rabbi Peretz has emphasized his opposition to “refusal of orders” in matters such as evicting Jews: “Refusal means blowing up our joint house,” he told Voice of Israel. Rabbi Peretz also said that he opposed the Disengagement and thinks it was a mistake, “but if I can’t say so as Chief Rabbi, then I won’t say it.”
He praised Rabbi Ronsky for the “sacred work” he did, including the fact that he is trying to attract army rabbis who were combat soldiers: “I think this is a great idea; soldiers are willing to listen to rabbis who fought as they did… There is always much to learn, and I plan to do so, with G-d’s help.”
Rabbi Peretz, age 53, studied in the Netiv Meir yeshiva high school in Jerusalem. He performs reserve duty by training young helicopter pilots in the army’s aviation school. He and his wife Michal have 12 children. He piloted an army helicopter during a 1992 rescue training mission, from which two soldiers fell and were killed due to a faulty cable. Subsequent investigation found no fault with his performance, though others were put on trial for their roles in the tragedy.