Sadly, cadets entering the IDF’s pilot training program are prohibiting from keeping or growing beards and payos, and on day-one of the elite course, they are compelled to remove them in the presence of a base non-commissioned officer.
One might assume the reason is due to operational logistics, to comply perhaps with the sophisticated computerized helmet that fighter pilots are compelled to wear, but during their first year of training, cadets do not event touch training simulators, yet alone real fighter craft. In addition, this would then not apply to cargo plane pilots and other positions not involving the sophisticated combat pilot’s helmet.
Adding to the argument in favor of the beards, there are reserve duty pilots with both beards and payos, and they do not experience difficulties in carrying out the responsibilities of their position as a result of their outwardly chareidi appearance.
The bottom line, it is because the air force wishes to maintain its clean-cut secular image and does not wish to be associated with the “dosim,” the derogatory term used to describe chareidi Jews. While there are a number of kippa sruga (knitted yarmulkes) cadets, they generally do not have payos or beards so it is less likely that they are targeted by the air force’s compulsion to appear the same as a goyish air force.
One cadet who was instructed to shave decided to comply rather than being expelled from the elite program. He admits that at first, he thought it was an operational thing but soon learned this is far from the case. He also pointed out that there are females in the course, questioning how their long hair is not problematic regarding wearing helmets but payos are problematic. They only target the frum cadets – ordering them to remove their beards and payos.
Another cadet about to begin stated as far as he is concerned, the request is tantamount to “removing my Jewish identity,” stating he will not comply, even if expelled from the class.
An air force rabbi points out that in recent years, there is a noticeable increase in the number of Shomer Shabbos cadets entering the program, albeit they remain a small percentage. He added that measures have been taken to better accommodate religious cadets. He also pointed out that outgoing air force commander Major-General Eliezer Shkedy stated he is waiting to see the first chareidi pilot. The rav explained that what is said is one thing and what is happening in actuality is entirely a different matter.
MK (National Union) Uri Ariel, who is affiliated with the Dati Leumi camp, called the news “surprising and difficult to understand,” stressing the demands are not based on operational realities at all, just a desire by the air force to portray a certain image. Ariel adds that the air force response, seeking a “unified look” is ridiculous, condemning a policy discriminating against those who seek to contribute the most to society. “The females in the course appear quite different form the men,” Ariel stated.
Rav Eliezer Melamed, rosh yeshiva of the Har Bracha Hesder Yeshiva expressed his surprise, adding that the army accommodates many needs of frum Jews but in this case, for some reason the air force seems unwilling to permit a Jew to exhibit a Jewish appearance, to look like a Jew should look.
According to a Kol Chai Radio report, IDF Chief Rabbi Brigadier-General Avichai Ronsky attempted to speak with air force officials, but they remain adamant and plan to continue their ‘clean cut’ policy.
The Office of the IDF Spokesperson responded to the report stating that the air force and the pilot program “have maintained a unified appearance for years. There is no trend to remove beards or payos elsewhere in the IDF or even in the air force. Quite the contrary – chareidim are serving in different units and are respected. The issue of the pilot training program will be investigated again by the air force’s commander.”
(Yechiel Spira – YWN Israel)