Daily Israel Report

Former IDF Rabbi Speaks on Deaths of IDF Soldiers

Rabbi Avihai Ronski speaks to Arutz Sheva about the IDF and the mourning process, after difficult and emotional funeral for killed soldier.
By Shimon Cohen and Tova Dvorin
First Publish: 8/3/2014, 12:34 PM

Former IDF Chief Rabbi Brigadier General Rabbi Avihai Ronski spoke to Arutz Sheva about the soldiers who have fallen in Operation Protective Edge on Sunday, noting that he officiated Major Benaya Sar-El's funeral on Saturday night despite having supposed to have officiated at the soldier's wedding in just a few weeks' time. 

Rabbi Ronski notes that he was not involved in the decision regarding the death announcement for Second Lt. Hadar Goldin, hy"d, who was missing and presumed murdered by Hamas terrorists during a battle in Rafah on Friday afternoon.

Ronski did say, however, that he trusts the decision of Brigadier General Rabbi Rafi Peretz in making the announcement, noting that while he personally did not know the details of Goldin's death, such an announcement is made only after ascertaining enough facts to declare a death.

"They [the IDF] do not announce a death when there is any room for doubt," Ronski noted.

The same could be said, according to Ronski, for Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul, hy"d, who was declared dead last week after being presumed abducted by Hamas terrorists; both decisions could only have been made by taking into account "significant halakhic [Jewish law] and military factors that are only relevant with enough information [to make a decision]," according to the Rabbi. 

Goldin will be buried, Rabbi Ronski noted, because enough of his body has been found to confirm his death and prepare it for burial, "which is important for the soul," he said. 

Both events sent Rabbi Ronski back to his term as Chief IDF Rabbi, he said, where he was forced to determine the fates of fallen IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, hy"d, who were both killed by Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War. Even then, he said, it was necessary to collect data from the presumed site of death, by coordinating with military sources still on the field. 

"It's very difficult," he said, regarding being required to convey bad news. "It's very difficult to look directly at the families." 

The most difficult scenarios, he said, remain unresolved; it's difficult for families to accept events when bodies remain unfound. Rabbi Ronski referred to the 1982 battle of Sultan Yacoub (Battle between Syria and Israel; First Lebanon War), which saw 30 IDF soldiers die in battle; three remain unaccounted for today. 

According to Rabbi Ronski, one family refused to accept the death declaration, which was announced by then-IDF Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Israel Weiss; the family appealed the decision to the High Court, which froze the death announcement. 

The last two burials are very difficult for other reasons, he noted; both soldiers - Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt. Benaya Sar-El - killed in battle, were slated to get married shortly.

"These cases take me back many years" he says, remembering a comrade during the Yom Kippur War, a operations officer of the 188th Brigade, who was engaged and was supposed to get married the day after the war began. The officer's fiancee was recognized ultimately by the IDF as a widow, due to the proximity of the date set for the wedding.

Rabbi Ronski's conversation with Arutz Sheva unfolded minutes before entering the Sar-El home in Kiryat Arba, and he noted that he expected the visit to be "difficult," especially in light of the engagement. 

"It was hard to give a eulogy for Benaya, to see his fiancee sitting next to a mound of dirt [for his grave]," Rabbi Ronski said. "It was hard to see."

"This is reminiscent of the lamentations [kinnot] of Tisha B'Av," he said - referring to the fast over the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, due to begin Monday night - where "[there is] a description of Israel as a widow."

"That is the harsh reality," he concluded. "All the plans, all the dreams... they are all shattered in a moment."