Should God be in the IDF?
There's been a controversy in the IDF - at least since Operation Cast Lead - over God's role in the army. I should preface this by saying that I firmly believe - as do many Israelis - that without God's help, the IDF would be defeated regardless of how good our technology is and how strong and clever our soldier's are. I believe that it is God who Wins the wars for us, and everyone else is just an actor carrying out God's wishes.
The opposite conception is known as כחי ועוצם ידי - my power and the strength of my hand wins. There are even people who have gone so far as to say that had we not gotten caught in the latter conception after the Six Day War, the Messiah would have come (just heard that again this week). I don't purport to be God's accountant, and I have no idea how He would have reacted had we attributed His victory in 1967 to him, but the possibility must at least be acknowledged.
As you might recall, as the troops were going into Gaza for Operation Cast Lead in December 2008, then-IDF chief rabbi Avichai Ronsky handed them brochures which summarized what the Torah has to say about going to war with non-Jews.
"[There is] a biblical ban on surrendering a single millimeter of it [the Land of Israel] to gentiles, though all sorts of impure distortions and foolishness of autonomy, enclaves and other national weaknesses. We will not abandon it to the hands of another nation, not a finger, not a nail of it." This is an excerpt from a publication entitled "Daily Torah studies for the soldier and the commander in Operation Cast Lead," issued by the IDF rabbinate. The text is from "Books of Rabbi Shlomo Aviner," who heads the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva in the Muslim quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem. [Deuteronomy 7:2 and the Rabbis' gloss on it says "you shall not give them a place in the land. CiJ]When Rabbi Ronsky's appointment came up for renewal later that year, then-Defense Minister Ehud 'secular revolution' Barak declined to renew it.
The following questions are posed in one publication: "Is it possible to compare today's Palestinians to the Philistines of the past? And if so, is it possible to apply lessons today from the military tactics of Samson and David?" Rabbi Aviner is again quoted as saying: "A comparison is possible because the Philistines of the past were not natives and had invaded from a foreign land ... They invaded the Land of Israel, a land that did not belong to them and claimed political ownership over our country ... Today the problem is the same. The Palestinians claim they deserve a state here, when in reality there was never a Palestinian or Arab state within the borders of our country. Moreover, most of them are new and came here close to the time of the War of Independence." [That's a statement of historical fact. CiJ]
The IDF rabbinate, also quoting Rabbi Aviner, describes the appropriate code of conduct in the field: "When you show mercy to a cruel enemy, you are being cruel to pure and honest soldiers. This is terribly immoral. These are not games at the amusement park where sportsmanship teaches one to make concessions. This is a war on murderers. 'A la guerre comme a la guerre.'" [Deuteronomy 20:13. CiJ]
While the current chief rabbi of the IDF is far less likely to be as politically incorrect as Rabbi Ronsky was, there are other people in the IDF who still believe that God Runs the show. Here's what Mrs. Carl described hearing on Israel Radio on her way to work Wednesday morning (when she couldn't just pop in a music CD because it was before Noon on the day after Tisha b'Av).
I listened to the program this morning on my drive to work. (I usually listen if I can – the discussions are usually interesting and thoughtful.)She didn't remember the names of the people involved, but one of the people she heard about might have been Colonel Ofer Winter, the commander of the Givati Brigade. This is from Haaretz, which is not only generally anti-Israel, but generally anti-Judaism as well:
I heard the topic about unauthorized speakers coming to Army bases to speak to soldiers about spiritual topics. I heard one recording of someone offering Tzitzit, and another of someone speaking.
Col. Ofer Winter, the commander of the Givati Brigade, is a thorough officer. Before going into Gaza he asked Kabbalists and yeshiva heads to pray for the operation’s success. “They promised to do it and asked me to take something upon myself – more mitzvoth, more enhancement of the mitzvoth,” the commander told military correspondents of the ultra-Orthodox newspaper Bamishpacha. [For those of you overseas, BaMishpacha is the Hebrew language Israeli version of Mishpacha. CiJ]
And so it was. “I decided to take it upon myself to pray the morning prayer with great purpose,” Winter added. “We’re in a combat situation, of nights without sleep, so sometimes the morning prayer comes after a sleepless night. It’s very hard, but I know it’s for the soldiers and I try to keep it up, lengthen my prayer and pray more intently.”
“At this time of war of all times, when the desire to join the troops is strong, we must reiterate that what the Jewish people needs most is for the Torah students to sit and study Torah more strongly,” Winter explained. “The study of Torah protects the Jewish people more than anything. Those who can sit and study – that is their obligation.”Columnist Uri Misgav wasn't happy with Winter.
Winter added that before going into combat he reads his soldiers the words “Hear, O Israel, ye draw nigh this day unto battle,” from Deuteronomy 20:3. According to the colonel, “When a person’s life is in danger, he gets connected to his deepest inner truth, and when that happens, even the greatest unbeliever meets God.”
This needs to be discussed as part of the investigation into the war. There are concerns that the army of the people, in a process amazingly similar to the one in civilian society, is breaking up into tribes — almost militias — whose character derives from the values of the commanders and their initiatives.
Is this a new policy for the Israel Defense Forces?
That is missionary terminology of Gog and Magog heralding the end of days. The written message Winter sent his soldiers — he declared a religious war on the Gaza enemy who blasphemes against the Lord of Hosts — was just for starters. Remember his calls to the government; for example, “Just have them release the handbrakes for us.” According to his troops, at the end of the clash in which five Hamas fighters were killed, their brigade commander raised his hands to the heavens and said "thank you God.”
This ultra-Orthodox-Zionist ethic was fully expressed in the interview in Bamishpacha. Winter apparently felt at home. “A miracle like at the Battle of Khuza'a I’ve never seen in all my military career, “ he said, referring to a village east of Khan Yunis.
“We decided to attack the place before dawn so no one would notice us. But for some reason the soldiers were late. We didn’t know what to do; dawn was breaking …. Then suddenly clouds protected us, ananai kavod,” he said, using a rabbinic phrase combining the word for cloud with the word for divine presence.
“It suddenly covered us, all the soldiers, a heavy fog that accompanied us throughout the assault. No one saw us. Only when the houses were blown up that were to be blown up and there was no danger to our lives did the fog suddenly lift. Really, ‘for the Lord your God is He that goeth ... to save you,’” Winter said, borrowing from Deuteronomy 20:4. Has Givati turned into the Jewish Jihad Brigade?Misgav goes on to call for Winter - a decorated officer - to be relieved of his command, lest he turn all his soldiers into 'religious fanatics.'
Enter Mrs. Carl and her email to Israel Radio. On the whole, Israel Radio is as Leftist and anti-religious as Haaretz:
My feeling is:This reminds me of 21 years ago when the Left tried to throw Chabad (Lubavitch) out of the army and the airport because they opposed Oslo. Freedom of speech in this country isn't always all it should be. And there is a lot more secular coercion than there is religious coercion - all protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.
1. Yes, I agree, it should have always been made much clearer that this was an optional motivational speaker, and attendance was NOT required or even necessary if the soldier was not interested.2. In all armies, no matter what the religious position, encouragement, including spiritual words of “chizuk” or strengthening before battle, are accepted practice and seen as something good before going in to face the terrible challenges of battle. This was not something unreasonable. Yes, Christian, Druze, even Muslim speakers should also be provided, depending on the soldiers’ preferences, but I would assume the assumption here was that the majority of listeners were Jewish, and there presumably weren’t any requests for other types of speakers.3. What I heard in the second clip was someone encouraging the soldiers to keep up and maintain the feelings of unity and solidarity and love and “achdut” that have been seen so clearly in the past 6 weeks. To take these feelings back with you when you go home, and try to keep up the feeling of unity and solidarity. This seems a Universally Wonderful message – especially in our argumentative, divisive society. (After all – look at how you are trying to create a controversy and argument over calls for unity!!)4. I believe the speaker was trying to speak poetically when he spoke of writing a new “perek” in “Tanach” – this is the Hebrew literary equivalent of “writing a new chapter in our nation’s history” – a common phrase in English. In fact, it could NOT have been a “religious” harangue because in the orthodox/religious world it is forbidden to add anything to the Tanach. So it must have been a poetic device.Putting this topic as the LEAD HEADLINE in the 10:00 news clip seems a little bit of an over-reaction to natural attempts to give encouragement to our soldiers. I see this as equivalent to the outpouring of supplies - dry goods and food – that were flowing down to the military camps. Yes, I agree, it should have been more controlled, it should have all been organized through the official military and affiliated soldier-support organizations, yes it was too much – but the source of it was deep love and a need to help our soldiers – our brothers and sons (and sisters and daughters) – in blood and in spirit.
Are you going to criticize the nation for expressing too much love and solidarity and unity? Does the media have an agenda to increase the divisiveness in our nation, when we are so desperate for unity? And do you see how ridiculous (I hope) that last question was – how ridiculous it is to take a natural thought, question, or action, and start to wrap it in layers of agenda and evil intent?
Again – I agree – the optional nature of these things must be made absolutely, unequivocally clear to every single soldier. And it has to be made available to everyone, of every religion, if requested. (Did you know that President Lincoln added Jewish chaplains to the US army only after it was requested by Jewish soldiers during the Civil War?)
But would you deny a little bit of encouragement to a soldier about to go into battle and feeling sick and maybe he would be strengthened by a feeling that he is loved and shielded by the prayers of his fellow Jews? Even if he is not officially “religious”?