Thursday, September 01, 2016

Release the IDF from Controversies of Culture and Religion

By HaRav Yisrael Rosen 
Dean of the Zomet Institute

“And you will say in your heart, my power and the strength of my hand are what brought me all this wealth. But you shall remember your G-d, for He is the one who gives you the strength to become wealthy.” [Devarim 8:17-18].

“If you camp out against your enemy, beware of every bad thing” [23:10]. “Do not increase the disputes among you, for this might cause you great harm, even more than from your enemies” [Ramban].

Finding Itself in the Flames of Dispute

Recently, the IDF has been drawn (very much against its will) into disputes that serve to divide our nation but which are not connected at all to matters of national policy and security. Rather, they are related to matters of the social atmosphere and culture, religion, and world outlook. Groups with an agenda that is not accepted by the majority of the population have found low ground where they can push their way in – the realms of the IDF.

A typical issue is whether IDF soldiers should “volunteer” to renovate a club for Sudanese nationals and others who infiltrated into our country and have settled in Tel Aviv. Or should IDF soldiers “volunteer” to renovate a clubhouse for the LGBT community which proudly shows off its lifestyle? I agree in principle that it is a good thing for soldiers to “volunteer” to participate in worthy social causes, on an ad hoc or even a permanent basis, for example by giving support to weak populations in border communities or by organizing sports activities for the handicapped. It is true that such activities are not military missions as such, and much ink has been spilled over the question of whether the army should be involved in missions which are not directly related to national security. My reply to these questions is a positive one, in the spirit of David Ben Gurion, who viewed the Nachal units of the IDF as a symbol of the “folk army” which were involved in agriculture and settlement activities in addition to their military missions . What we are discussing today is not whether it is proper to move the IDF outside of the realm of security, but whether the IDF should be moved into areas which do not correspond to the broad consensus of the people.

We can also move on from the realm of culture to the realm of religion. In Israel, there is no separation of religion and the state. The only Jewish religion which is formally recognized in the country is the Orthodox form, as is exemplified by the approach of the Chief Rabbinate.Other movements and sub-movements appear prominently in the communications media, trying to take the stage in the activities of the IDF, while promoting their ideas about religion and the state. Dressing these minority groups in military uniforms is meant to give them broad national legitimization, since after all this “this is a folk army.” Thus, these people “steal their way” into the IDF in matters related to education and the formats of ceremonies and gatherings. They search out any Torah-based declarations or the use of holy verses which do not correspond to their liberal outlook in the military order of the day, from the mouths of IDF rabbis or senior officers who are religious. The prominently loud media, led by “Haaretz,” are conscripted into this struggle, which can be considered an attempt to drag the IDF into extraneous controversy.

Withdrawing from the Line of Fire

I do not make light of this matter, and I am aware that not everybody agrees with me, but I say that these issues must be removed from the IDF. I know that it will not be easy, since these disputes are very broad and cover the gamut of the opinions of the nation, as noted above. However, I do know one thing: the comment of the Ramban quoted above, “Beware of every bad thing” ... “Do not increase the disputes among you, for this might cause you great harm, even more than from your enemies.” The sages interpreted “a bad thing” – “davar” – as “harmful speech” – “dibur.” And they gave a long list of types of speech that can weaken the “spirit of the camp,” such as curse words, clowning, slander, revealing secrets (field security) and ... arguments.

To “compensate” for giving up on these disputes and in order to stop the process of digging in deeper than we have been doing, I feel that we should ignore the issue of singing by women, and to simply allow any soldier who does not want to listen to leave the area. I gave my opinion a few months ago in this column about the subject of beards – that the IDF should develop a unified standard “army beard,” as is the rule with haircuts and with standards for hair styles of the women. It is also reasonable to set standards for accepted styles of wigs, in line with normal standardization in the appearance of women soldiers.

In brief: We must do everything we can to keep the IDF at the point of national consensus.

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