The IDF has long had an army rabbi read the first chapter of the Book of Joshua at its swearing-in ceremony for new recruits, as the passage discusses the battle to conquer the Land of Israel. On Sunday, the IDF reversed this tradition, deciding that the person tasked with reading the passage will be chosen by every unit's commander.
The IDF's Manpower Division clarified in a missive sent out regarding the protocol at IDF swearing-in ceremonies that "the reading of the Book of Joshua will be performed by a member of the unit to be determined by each unit's commander" and not the military rabbi.
The IDF Rabbinate was furious at the decision, contending that this step was taken as part of a continuous assault on religion inside the army. "We are witnessing another attack on the status of the Rabbinate," a source told Arutz Sheva. "They are presenting these guidelines as simply a way to change procedures for the public's benefit but we see this phenomenon growing stronger."
"This is what happened in the past when the inauguration ceremonies of the Netzach Yehuda Battalion were transferred from Ammunition Hill to the Western Wall where a ceremony was held in the presence of female soldiers, ignoring the feelings of the haredi soldiers."
According to the source, these are not "mishaps" but part of "a negative trend that must be stopped as soon as possible".
The IDF Spokesperson stated that "the updated directive states that any officer can read the Book of Joshua. The chapter can still be read by an IDF rabbi if chosen by the unit commander".
"The rabbi's centrality in the ceremony remains in place and he will still take part in the swearing-in ceremony, whether by reading this chapter or another text."
In 2015, then- IDF Chief Education Officer, Brigadier General Avner Paz-Tzuk wrote a letter to the head of the IDF Manpower Directorate, Maj. Gen. Hagi Topolansky, in which he recommended removing rabbis from the IDF swearing-in ceremonies entirely. Paz-Tzuk argued that the presence of a rabbi in the ceremony hurt the feelings of secular soldiers.
“There’s something wrong with the fact that the central figures in the ceremony, alongside the commanders of the units, are the military rabbi and the rabbi of the unit,” he wrote. “The ceremony is not a religious ceremony, and there is no reason it should look this way.”
Later that month, Paz-Tzuk read the passage from the Book of Joshua instead of an army rabbi at a swearing-in ceremony for the Givati Brigade.