Rabbi Rafi Peretz
Rabbi Rafi Peretz Israel news photo: Ometz mechina

The defense establishment has appointed Rabbi Rafi Peretz as Chief Rabbi of the IDF, and he will replace Rabbi Avichai Ronsky, whose term of office was not renewed in an unprecedented move by Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Rabbi Peretz won national recognition immediately before the 2005 expulsions in Gush Katif by embracing and dancing with soldiers who came to his community of Atzmona to expel residents and destroy houses, synagogues and other public facilities. He said that the unity of the IDF is paramount, although he was against the expulsion edict. He is head of the Ometz “mechina.” a pre-military Torah institute that has been relocated to Yated in the Western Negev. Rabbi Peretz serves in the IDF as a reserve helicopter pilot

He will be elevated from the rank of Lieutenant Colonel to Brigadier General and will become a full-time army officer. The IDF said the appointment was made after consulting with Israel’s chief rabbis and Defense Minister Barak, who approved him.

Barak fired Rabbi Ronsky by taking the extraordinary move of not renewing his term, which expires this summer. The Defense Minister is known to have disapproved of the way Rabbi Ronsky, a colonel in the reserves until promoted to Brigadier General at the time, carried out the mission given to him by then-IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, a secular Jew, who wanted someone to renew soldiers' faith and motivation following the 2005 expulsions that divided the country.

Rabbi Ronsky went out into the field with soldiers but often was accused by Israeli popular media with “religious coercion” by instilling Jewish belief among soldiers. Rabbi Peretz offers a different image from his predecessor, who grew up as a secular Jew but moved closer to Torah following frightening experiences in the Yom Kippur War.

Whereas Rabbi Ronsky heads a yeshiva in the community of Itamar, in northern Samaria, the beardless Rabbi Peretz’s mechina, like most others, commits its students to serving in the IDF after a maximum of two years of learning Torah full-time. Itamar students have the option of enlisting in the army for the regular three-year service, join the Hesder Torah study program with less time in the army, or continunig to learn in yeshiva.

Military sources have indicated that IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi respects Rabbi Ronsky’s work but decided not to fight Barak’s decision not to renew his term of office.