IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkott has given an order to limit the authority of the military’s rabbinate. According to the report appearing in the daily Haaretz, the IDF commander’s decision was prompted by the recent incident in which a lone soldier brought a ham sandwich on his base, which he shared with friends. As reported, the soldier was jailed for breaking General Staff regulations prohibiting one from bringing treif on a base. The jail term was suspended after the intervention of a military correspondent and finally, the soldier was released amid public pressure. The IDF expressed sorrow over the fact the military “gave in” to public pressure.
Eizenkott asked to probe the current separation of authority between the rabbinate and the army’ education corps. Officials in the IDF Personnel Branch have been instructed to probe the division of authority and report back to Eizenkott.
Over the years, the IDF Rabbinate’s role in educational program has been expanding, at times going head-to-head with Education Corps officials. This became increasingly prominent during the tenure of former IDF Chief Rabbi Avichai Ronsky. However it now appears the military’s top commander wishes to limit the rabbinate’s role as much as possible.
The clashes between the units merited prominent media coverage, especially by Haaretz, and this led to the involvement MKs who feared the military rabbinate is exceeding its authority by trying to push religion on those uninterested in hearing about it. Criticism included trips and meetings between soldiers and rabbonim, as well as Chabad activities on IDF bases including distribution of jelly donuts on Chanukah, asking soldiers if they wish to be fulfill the mitzvah of 4 minim on Sukkos, to put on tefilin and the like.
Unquestionably during the tenure of the current IDF Chief Rabbi Brigadier-General Rafi Peretz tensions have been lowered. Following Ronsky’ tenure, Peretz was handpicked to make sure the incoming chief rabbi would be more ‘agreeable’ in nature.
Haaretz quotes the IDF chief explaining that when one errs in a navigational maneuver one returns to the last correct place and this is what he plans to do concerning the IDF Rabbinate. A senior officer quoted by Haaretz anonymously explains that the chief simply wants to see the rabbinate deal with its issues and the educational folks dealing with education.
The officer is quoted adding “We must return to the basic values set by David Ben-Gurion; while religious and non-religious soldiers serve in the military, the IDF will maintain a “Jewish atmosphere” and kashrus. A non-religious soldier will respect the religious soldier’s right to daven and a religious soldier will participate in unit activities”.
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)
What does it mean “participate in unit activities”? Listening to women singing?