Kfir Brigade fighter B. has been careful since reaching Bar Mitzvah age, as part of his religious faith, not to shave or cut his hair during the Omer countdown from Passover to Shavuot.

According to this morning's report on Army Radio, this meticulousness cost him twenty days in prison.

B. defines himself as "Traditional". Every year he has asked his commanders permission to observe the custom, and this year he did as well. But in response to this request he was told he was not defined as a religious soldier and would have to shave. After refusing to accept the order, he was tried and sentenced to the stockade.

His brother Itai expressed anger at the decision and said it reflected contempt for traditional soldiers. "The IDF must understand there's a large population called Traditional and they should be allowed to uphold their faith. Traditional Jews aren't second-class Jews. My little brother is a traditional man from a traditional family. He's been keeping the Omer count since the age of 13. The IDF can't define whether he's religious enough or not to observe the mitzvot."

According to the report, this is not an isolated case. Many traditional soldiers wishing to observe the customs of the period were rejected on grounds they were not religious enough.

Former IDF Chief Rabbi Yisrael Weiss claimed in a conversation with Galatz this represented a change in policy, and that during his time such distinctions were not made. "In my time, anyone who wanted to grow a beard during Omer was exempted from shaving - there is such an halakha. I wouldn't be so strict. Certainly I wouldn't put people in jail for such a thing."

The IDF does not deny the policy, and clarifies that only those defined as "religious" are entitled to an exemption from shaving during the days of the Omer. "A soldier who does not have a permanent permit to grow a beard is allowed to grow one during the Omer period only if he maintains a religious lifestyle. In the case of B., it was found that the soldier was not entitled to a permit."