Firefighters (illustration)
Firefighters (illustration)Yossi Zamir/Flash 90

Firefighting Commissioner Teddy Simchi instructed religious firefighters not to grow a beard during the Omer.

The Omer is a 49-day period between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot in which religious Jews engage in mourning for various tragedies which befell the Jewish people during this period, including the deaths of thousands of students of the Talmudic sage Rabbi Akiva. The mourning traditionally ends on Lag Ba'Omer, the 33rd day of the period. One of the customs religious Jews engage in during this period is not to shave.

The directive was conveyed through the district commanders to all firefighters, reminding them that "it is forbidden [for firefighters] to grow a beard during the Omer and in general."

Hundreds of haredi and National Religious personnel serve in the Fire Service in Israel. A number of firefighters protested the directive as violating their religious beliefs.

"It is puzzling how the masks that the firefighters wear are good for the elderly - as decided by the Home Front Command - or the police, but according to Simchi they are not good for firefighters," the said.

"These are masks with international standardization, which have been professionally tested by an expert company in the field, and they are found to be suitable and fit for the elderly. Hence, there is a foolish attempt by Simchi to exclude entire populations from service as firefighters and an explicit deception of the public. All this is in order to take revenge on the firefighters for expressing their lack of trust, and to conduct a labor dispute backed by the Histadrut for not honoring the terms of their employment," the firefighters added.

In 2017 Simchi met with Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau to discuss the issue of religious firefighters growing beards.

Rabbi Lau stated that since the IDF had developed a solution to allow soldiers to wear gas masks over their beards, the Fire Service should examine whether it is possible to fit firefighter's masks to accomate men with beards.