Religious Soldiers
Religious SoldiersFlash 90

52 religious soldiers have been ordered to shave as a condition for them to return to their homes over the weekend.

According to Arutz Sheva, out of 67 religious soldiers that drafted recently to the combat engineering corps, only 15 received an allowance to grow their beards. Jewish law prohibbits a man from shaving his face with a razor, and many religious men retain a beard for cultural and religious reasons.

One of the soldiers protested, "I learned in a yeshiva high school, I have been growing a beard for most of my life for religious reasons which I believe in. This morning, they announced that anyone who didn't get a temporary beard permit at Bakum [intake center] has two options - to stay on base for the weekend, or shave their beard and go home.

"I was in shock. Why are they forcing a teenager to choose between two values which I believe in?! One is growing a beard, and the second is honoring parents. Why do I need to 'surprise' my parents over the phone, by telling them that I will not arrive home for shabbat, after we haven't seen each other for two weeks? I felt a great injustice, and I began to cry.

In the end, the soldier decided to shave, in his words, with a heavy heart and a lot of tears. "I am certain everyone who was around me saw my pain at the decision. How can we push someone to give up on what he believes Last time that happened, it was 70 years ago in Europe. There they cut beards, there they tore out sidelocks. I went home healthy and hole, but with a broken heart."

Army sources explained its rule over whether it will reject a beard: soldiers who enter the army with a thick beard can keep it during their service for religious or lifestyle reasons.

However, in light of recent Army strictures that seek to reduce the number of so-called "beard permits" for religious soldiers, it appears that a stubble no longer - as it were - makes the cut.

The IDF responded that, "The policy of the IDF is that growing a beard is only permitted for someone who lives a religious life, or for a secular soldier for whom a beard was a part of his lifestyle before drafting. The command was introduced to ensure discipline in IDF units. The IDF has no intent to harm the feelings or lifestyles of its soldiers, religious and secular alike. The chief commander of the combat engineers has ordered the soldiers not to shave until he can investigate the matter on Sunday."

An IDF source commented to Arutz Sheva that "not all soldiers who requested a beard permit live a religious lifestyle, or are secular people who normally wear a beard."

The disciplinary action comes against a backdrop several incidents of overt discrimination against religious soldiers.

A new organization established this week, "One Command," calls on soldiers who keep their traditions to submit complaints if they encounter religious problems in the IDF. "These past years, we have been witness to hundreds of incidents, wherein soldiers were forced to act against their consciences and against their rights," the organization's founders explained.

"The changes that the IDF has undergone in past years led more than once to conflicts which had not existed in the past. More than once, lack of attention caused many hang-ups. 'One Command' has made it its mission to deal only with the situations which are not resolved by normal IDF channels."

Rabbi Rafi Foyerstein, a rabbi of Tzohar, attacked the new organization, saying, "I see a lot of...hatred and mistrust. I hear of a new informer hotline against the IDF. What is this? Who needs this?

"Are there no military rabbis to speak to? Are there no heads of hesder yeshivas? This is another little stab at the story of the IDF," the rabbi said to Arutz Sheva.

(Editor note: Staff at Arutz Sheva personally know cases where religious IDF trainees were denied access to the military rabbi on base for weeks on end. It is unknown whether this is a common phenomenon.)