As the military of the Jewish state, the Military Rabbinate plays a central part in the IDF's existence. Arutz Sheva-Israel National News spoke with Captain Rabbi Yehoshua Gerstein, the rabbi of the 282nd Artillery Brigade, to hear about the IDF Rabbinate's important work.

"The role of a rabbi here in the IDF is the role of any community rabbi that you would find in communities around the world, in a military setting, which makes it a little more intense and extreme. This is a setting where you wouldn't normally find a rabbi," Gerstein says and explains that IDF rabbis are in charge of overseeing the kashrut (kosher supervision) on bases, ensuring there are religious services and items for the soldiers, overseeing the synagogue, providing Torah classes and other educational activities, making sure the soldiers have what they need for the holidays.

He adds that the military context is what makes the job challenging, for example: "How you go ahead and build a sukkah in a place that may be a little bit more complicated to get to like on top of a tank. How do you go ahead and bring a Torah scroll to the troops who are training in the field? So basically it's a normal rabbinic position however dealing with things that are definitely not the norm in any place that's outside of the army and things that you won't find easily in our ancient halachic (Jewish law) scriptures."

Regarding the halachic complexities, he emphasizes that "halacha is halacha, that doesn't change. What's different about the army is the situation that exists. While most people in civilian life go about their daily lives with a very regimented life, and therefore they know what to do on a day-to-day, many times soldiers are in situations that are not of their own choosing, they are in situations where they are protecting the people of Israel and the State of Israel, which has a whole different form of halachic reasoning and ruling." He explains that the IDF has a Halacha Branch, which has published books on halacha in the military that take the rules that were passed down through tradition, and see how they apply to the situation at hand.

According to Gerstein, the IDF's soldiers, and commanders see the importance of the rabbinate, and that is for two main reasons: "As a people's army, everyone needs to have the ability to be able to serve in the army and to feel comfortable in the main spaces that the army has, and if you want everyone to be able to eat together all of the food needs to be kosher. If you want religious soldiers to have places to pray and learn, we need to be able to have all of those things for them. So I think the commanders feel that the IDF is a people's army, which is important for the army and the State of Israel.

Second of all," he adds, "As rabbis in the army we are able to be advisors to the commanders, on all religious matters." He says that while soldiers are encouraged to stay connected with their rabbis at home, the IDF rabbis need to be the accepted ruling factor for the soldiers while on duty. "The commanders look towards us to be able to help their soldiers have a meaningful religious experience while serving in the IDF, to be able to explain both sides to people who might not understand the nuances of living a Torah lifestyle, and I think that the commanders also look to the rabbis in terms helping to lift the morale of the soldiers both the religious and secular," he adds.

Along with its other duties the IDF Rabbinate also tends to the fallen soldiers, following the October 7th massacre the military rabbis were faced with a challenge the scope of which was priorly unknown. "The military rabbis, both in the south and at the main Rabbinate base in the Shura Camp, had the mission to bring all the fallen soldiers and civilians to burial, which entailed bringing them from the place where they fell to the main base in Shura, to go through the process of identifying fallen civilians and soldiers. Everything was done professionally, as quickly as possible, while trying as much as possible to have proper respect for the fallen soldier or civilian who was murdered in the October 7th massacre," Gerstein explains.

According to him, "The Rabbinate takes that very seriously, there is no chance of making a mistake, and no one wants to make a mistake. Everyone wants to work as professionally as possible and as hard as possible to go to a family who has lost a loved one and tell them 'We found your loved one,' and we're bringing them to a Jewish burial, and in some way bring closure to the family."

Rabbi Gerstein concludes by talking about the spiritual support given by the IDF Rabbinate to the soldiers. "the goal of an army Rabbi is to really be with the soldiers in the field. To eat what they eat, to sleep where they sleep, to walk where they walk. I think that a rabbi's job is not to sit in an office and wait for something to happen happen.

"I can tell you that for the first hundred days of the war, I was sleeping in the same place the soldiers were sleeping, I was eating the same combat rations that the soldiers were eating. When the soldiers see that the rabbi is with them in the field, they're rabbi's willing to suffer the same situations that they have to go through, they really look at him as someone who understands what they're going through. They look at him as someone who they're able to go and talk about the issues that they're having whether it's personal issues, spiritual issues, family issues, or just to hear a good word just to lift their spirit. And I think that that's what I tried to do in my Brigade with the Battalion rabbis who I'm in command of in these types of situations. To be there with the soldiers, uplifting the morale, and really giving them the spirit to continue their jobs of protecting the State of Israel and the Jewish people."