IDF soldiers pray to receive needed Biblical articles for worship

A special organization is trying to ease the entrance of haredim, into the Israeli army.

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החיילים מתפללים בכותל המערבי
החיילים מתפללים בכותל המערבי
צילום: חדשות הכותל המערבי

“Speak unto B’nei Yisrael, and bid them that they make them throughout their generations fringes in the corners of their garments, and that they put with the fringe of each corner a thread of blue.” Numbers 15:38 (The Israel Bible™)

By providing religious IDF soldiers with specially-designed army versions of necessary ritual objects like prayer shawls and tefillin (phylacteries), one special organization is easing the entrance of ultra-Orthodox Jews, also known as haredim, into the Israeli army.

“The army advanced the conscription of haredim before properly preparing for their special religious needs,” Yosef Bar-David, founder of The Israeli Soldiers’ Fund (ISF), said to Breaking Israel News, “ISF works with the army by providing religious articles to soldiers who need them. ISF is focused on aiding religious IDF soldiers to succeed both in their army service as well as maintain their Biblically-commanded lifestyle".

IDF soldiers hang a mezzuzah on a doorpost.

ISF began in 2008 by subsidizing food for underprivileged soldiers and providing dowries for newlyweds. However, in 2013, Bar-David changed the organization’s focus to aiding religious IDF soldiers who lack what they need to maintain their religious lifestyle in the army.

“We raise funds to give soldiers prayer shawls and tzitzit (four-cornered garments with fringes on the corners), Torah scrolls, tefillin, mezuzahs (prayers for doorposts) and more,” said Bar-David. “Israel is a holy land given to the Jewish people in the merit of their fulfillment of God’s will. Our soldiers must have what they need to protect the land through their observance of Biblical commandments.”

ISF gives out prayer shawls and tefillin to IDF soldiers. (Courtesy ISF)

Bar-David says that an IDF commander recently contacted ISF requesting 1,000 pairs of specially made tzitzit for his troops along with prayer shawls. “Though we actively raise funds to provide various religious objects at all times, we are presently working full force to fulfill this commander’s specific request,” he explained to Breaking Israel News. “The soldiers are deeply grateful for receiving ISF prayer shawls and our specially made tzitzit as they are comfortable for soldiers in uniform.”

The wearing of tzitzit is mandated in the Book of Numbers for four-cornered garments, but most Orthodox Jews wear a special four-cornered garment, called a tallit katan or tzitzit, under their shirts to fulfill the mitzva:

Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them throughout their generations fringes (tzitzit) in the corners of their garments, and that they put with the fringe of each corner a thread of blue: And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them. Numbers 15:3

While tzitzit are worn as an undergarment, prayer shawls, called tallit in Hebrew, are large, rectangle shaped garments that have fringes on each corner and are donned over clothes during prayer services. Even during times of war, soldiers take their tzitzit and tallit with them. Due to the circumstances of soldiers outside in the field, these religious items quickly get tattered and worn out. Replacements are in constant demand.

An IDF soldier wears a tallit (prayer shawl). (Courtesy ISF)

“When religious civilian men dress, they normally put on a t-shirt, then white [often wool] tzitzit, then their shirt and a jacket,” continued Bar-David. “However, for a soldier, all that clothing is too cumbersome and hot. ISF tzitzit are army-colored green and made of perspiration-repellant cotton. They are worn directly on the body and are comfortable and cool. The soldiers love them.”

"According to Jewish sages", Bar-David added, "when a man puts on his tzitzit and tallit before leaving his home, he is protected from destructive forces. These holy garments are considered a “spiritual vest” which protects the wearer from both physical and spiritual harm".

IDF soldiers and officers dance with a Torah scroll (Courtesy ISF)

“Especially during these troubling times, we should provide our brave IDF soldiers with some extra defense,” said Bar-David. “All of our ISF projects are coordinated with high ranking IDF officials who constantly contact us about the religious needs of their soldiers and ask for our assistance.”

ISF believes that while many Haredim are afraid that army service can harm thier spiritual-religious strength, easing the burden for soldiers to observe Biblical commandments is an important process for their integration into the army and Israeli society at large.

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