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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The IDF gets religion

For years there were complaints that religious Jewish men avoided serving in the IDF. Now that there are 3,000 Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men in the IDF, that much of the National Religious public is demanding similar religious standards to what the Haredim are demanding, and that an inordinate percentage of the officer corps is religious, secular Israelis - as represented by Haaretz - are reconsidering whether they really want all those religious people in the IDF. I will pass this on with a small excerpt and without further comment.
Orr says he never encountered religious soldiers boycotting events featuring female singers. He certainly never imagined stories such as these, culled randomly from the media this week: about the IDF gradually adopting stricter (kasher lemehadrin ) dietary standards (from the army's weekly Bamahane ); about Rabbi Eli Sadan, head of the pre-military academy in Eli, lecturing about the "dedication and courage" of Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir (Yedioth Ahronoth ); and about the IDF Education Corps' directive that soldiers not attend the annual memorial rally for Yitzhak Rabin (Haaretz ).

When it comes to relations between religious and secular soldiers, it seems that indeed, this is no longer the army we used to know. As if we blinked and the army changed.

The IDF's policy with respect to kosher food, drafted by the first IDF rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Goren in the 1950s, was based on the lowest common denominator that could be found between religious and secular soldiers: Each side sacrificed something, but the army's dining halls were open to all. Yet now this situation isn't good enough for the IDF's 3,000 ultra-Orthodox soldiers, and a growing group of Haredi-Zionist soldiers won't accept it either. The army's rabbinate is currently leaning toward accepting these ultra-Orthodox soldiers' demands and toughening kashrut rules, which will require larger budgets.

Of course, the growing number of religious soldiers and officers forces the army to make adjustments; now it has to face an array of issues that did not have to be addressed in the past. Yet some of these changes, particularly those involving women, stem from power struggles between rabbis not affiliated with the army, who compete to make stricter demands of their students in uniform.

November 2011 data from the IDF Manpower Directorate, compiled yesterday, shows that the national-religious school system sends more graduates to combat units than any other educational system. National-religious graduates make up an even larger percentage of combat officers. At time when many secular youths, including those who choose combat units, are content to serve their mandatory three years before returning to civilian life, religious soldiers are being educated to stay in uniform beyond the minimum. Thus, 42 percent of cadets in the most recent infantry officer training course were religious (nine cadets in this course stood trial for boycotting the contentious ceremony with women singers ).

Rabbi Sadan's influence on these soldiers is considerable; some say he has the impact and stature of a major general. In 1988, Sadan established the religious pre-army academy Bnei David in the settlement of Eli - today the country's largest and most important such institution, many of whose graduates go on to command battalions.
Read the whole thing.

If the comments become more uncivil than usual, I will close them.

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At 2:40 PM, Blogger Sunlight said...

The main thing that matters for the task at hand is that the soldiers will work together and that no soldier will hesitate, whether their colleague is male or female, religious or secular. U.S. Bpy Scouts manage kashrut out in the wilderness, so I'd imagine that it can be done. And the things they've come up with are yummy. Re the women singing or otherwise being seen and heard, maybe turnabout is a solution to that. Set it up like chabad does with screens (that look like chalkboards on wheels) and let whoever wants to sit behind them with some Walgreens earplugs or ear protectors from the shops or flightlines. They would be responsible for their own sights and sounds. Possibly the issue is less logistics and more each group wanting the other to do it their way. Feel free to not post this if I've been more uncivil than usual! :)

At 6:53 PM, Blogger Red Tulips said...

I personally think the "disengagement" was a terrible mistake, but at the same time, an army can only function when there are clear chains of command. It is not good for the army if a rabbi gets a veto power over a general.

As far as the secular/religious divide, you know my thoughts. I believe that Judaism is becoming more and more strict - unnecessarily - amongst Haredi circles. Things acceptable 20 years ago and no longer acceptable today. I find it hard to believe that in the times of yore, there were signs in Yiddush, saying women should walk on one side of the street, men on the other. And the mechitzah on Maimonides' grave is a new development. There is almost a joy in accepting as many religious stringencies as possible. I even have read of a new movement for Jewish women to wear a "Jewish burka." So I don't think we should rush to believe that necessarily it is the Halachic responsibility for soldiers to disobey their commanders and avoid listening to women sing.

It's all very sad. The Conservative movement is going further to the "left" and therefore further from an acceptance of Halacha, and the religious right is going much further to the "right." I frankly don't see these additional restrictions that the Haredim are placing upon Judaism to be in the true spirit of Halacha, either. All this will of course have a detrimental effect on the army.


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