Chief Rabbis to IDF: Be Aware of Religious Soldiers' Needs

Chief Rabbis meet IDF COS, discuss need for sensitivity to special needs of religious soldiers. Not only kosher food and holidays.

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R. Sylvetsky,

Chief Rabbis and COS Gantz
Chief Rabbis and COS Gantz
Israel News Photo: Flash 90

Israel’s Chief Rabbis, Rav Shlomo Amar and Rav Yonah Metzger, held their traditional yearly pre-High Holiday meeting on Sunday with  IDF Chief of Staff, Lt-Gen. Benny Gantz.  

The two rabbis expressed their hope that the COS will see to it that there is more understanding of the religious needs of observant soldiers, who form over 30% of volunteer combat units. These needs are not limited to kosher food and Sabbath and holiday observance, but have to do just as much with the atmosphere and environment in which these soldiers, whose training and service demand of them so much sacrifice, serve.

Just last week, nine religious officer cadets left an IDF event that included a live performance of women singers, in line with the Torah prohibition that precludes listening to live female vocalists (see explanation below)  and were ordered by their commanding officer to return to their seats. Some refused and four were later expelled from Officers Training School for insubordination. (for op-ed on the topic, click here.)

While feminist and leftist groups described the issue as one of the examples of “religious extremists turning Israel and its army into places where women do not enjoy equal rights”, rabbis, including Rabbi Chaim Druckman of the hesder yeshiva program and the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel wondered why the army could not simply go on with the performance while exempting soldiers who felt it was against their religious practice to attend. The soldiers, the forum said, were not attempting to foist their behavior on the entire army or prevent the women soldiers from singing, while the organizations that decried the soldiers’ behavior were acting against religious freedom in the IDF.

The Legal Forum is considering bringing the issue to the Supreme Court.

Another religious issue brought up at the meeting was the method of integration of women into combat units, where field conditions cause immediate problems of modesty for religious soldiers serving with them, due to minimal privacy. Since the female soldiers are a small minority, while religious soldiers from hesder and mechina programs play a central part in IDF combat units; religious leaders say that ways should be found to prevent friction that might even cause Religious Zionist soldiers to avoid combat units.

The transfer of four women soldiers to a different combat unit last week in an attempt to deal with the issue caused feminist groups to be “up in arms”. 

The rabbis expressed hope for unity among the people of Israel in the coming year, presenting the COS with a shofar in honor of the approaching New Year. He, in turn, gave them two silver pomegranates. The Hebrew word for the fruit is identical to the word for hand grenades, “rimonim”, and the COS expressed the hope that only “rimonim” of this type would be in use in the New Year.

The rabbis also discussed and expressed their concern about the recent incident of vandalism of army vehicles that is attributed to the “price taggers", a small, marginal group of Judea and Samaria youth who claim they exact a price for anti-Yesha government or Arab activity, in this case allegedly avenging the dead-of-night destruction of three houses in Migron by the IDF.