IDF relaxes restrictions on facial hair for religious soldiers

The IDF relaxed its grooming standards to enable religious soldiers to grow beards after revised rules in 2016 caused a huge backlash.

Tzvi Lev ,

Religious soldier
Religious soldier
Abir Sultan/Flash90

The IDF announced on Sunday that it has revised its grooming standards, relaxing some restrictions and making it easier for religious soldiers to keep their beards.

According to the new guidelines, a soldier wishing to grow a beard for religious reasons can request special permission from the military rabbinate, who would then discuss the matter with the soldiers' commander. Soldiers were previously required to receive approval from high ranking officers in the IDF's Human Resources Corp.

While the IDF has in the past prohibited enlisted men from growing a beard, religious soldiers had previously been able to receive a deferment from the army's grooming standards for religious reasons. However, after reportedly feeling that these privileges were abused by soldiers with lax standards of religiosity, the IDF tightened the protocols in 2016, making it substantially harder for observant conscripts to receive exemptions.

While under the old rules a unit's rabbinate could issue beard exceptions, the new guidelines required signed approval of certain high-ranking officers, which led to charges that the IDF was making it harder for religious soldiers to practice their religion. Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, an influential Religious Zionist rabbi, said that the revised protocol was "a dark day for the IDF" and dismissed claims that the beard ban was aimed at building discipline.

"One can be bearded and neat and beardless and unkempt," wrote Aviner. "All of the world’s armies feature, as they have in the past, bearded generals and officers, and these have led to victories."

However, the IDF denied that the revised shaving ban was an attack on religious soldiers. "A religious soldier who requests to grow a beard will appeal to his commander, as will any other soldier who wants to grow a beard for other reasons," said then-IDF Spokesperson Brigadier General Moti Almoz. " On the other hand, it’s impossible to maintain a disciplined military when everyone grows a beard, and therefore we’ve set clearer rules."