Religious soldiers
Religious soldiers Israel news photo: Flash 90

Religious soldiers who served time in military prison recently say they were forced to do cleaning work on the Sabbath in violation of IDF regulations.

The soldiers reported that they were ordered to clean in preparation for an inspection. “It happens every Sabbath between 3:30 and 4,” they told Arutz Sheva.

“The commander ordered us to clean the tent, including picking up butts of cigarettes that of course we had not smoked, since we observe the Sabbath,” one said. “She ordered us to stack mattresses and do other work, as if it were a weekday.”

A second soldier reported being ordered to clean sand in the area, “and to do so, we had to use rakes” – an implement forbidden for use on the Sabbath. The soldier is from a hareidi-religious family and enlisted in one of the IDF units that promises hareidi soldiers a high standard of halacha (Jewish law) observance.

When asked why they had not complained, some of the soldiers explained that they were afraid to make an already bad situation worse. Two of the soldiers said they had intended to complain, but accused prison staff of deliberately keeping them away from the base commander so that they could not do so.

IDF sources who spoke to Arutz Sheva suggested that the soldiers may have been advised to clean, but not directly ordered to do so. The soldiers insist that was not the case. “They told us, ‘You could not do it, but take into account that it would be refusing an order. It will come back to hurt you, we’ll give you more days in jail, take away your canteen privileges and your visits,’” they said. “They threatened us, that’s why people preferred to do it and keep quiet.”

Rabbi Eliyahu Lax of the Association for the Torah-Observant Soldier sent a letter of complaint to IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz over the matter. In addition to the Sabbath cleaning, Rabbi Leks noted, soldiers’ food was heated in a way that violated the Sabbath, leaving Sabbath-observant soldiers with nothing to eat but salads and fried dough.

The problem in the prison is part of a larger phenomenon, he warned, “This proves that even if the IDF genuinely wants to allow the Torah-observant public to serve without violating halacha (something we doubt), this goodwill has not trickled down to the lower levels of command, as we see time and again.”

IDF spokespeople said Rabbi Peretz will reply to the complaints directly, “not through the media.”