Smotrich: IDF intends to shut down Jewish identity branch of IDF rabbinate

“This decision is connected to a long campaign of intimidation despite the fact that the activities of the rabbinate on the issue of reaped widespread praise,” claimed Smotrich.

February 7, 2016 17:42
2 minute read.
Bezalel Smotrich.

Bezalel Smotrich.. (photo credit: Courtesy/Regavim)

Discontent in the ranks of the national-religious leadership over the transfer of the Jewish identity branch out of the IDF Rabbinate rumbles on with Bayit Yehudi MKs Moti Yogev and Bezalel Smotrich strongly criticizing the decision during a hearing in the Knesset on Sunday.

Established in 2001 to impart an esprit de corps and “sense of mission” to IDF soldiers using traditional Jewish value sources, the branch was accused of disseminating overtly religious and nationalistic ideas.

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Speaking in a special hearing of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Sunday, Smotrich alleged that the planned transfer of the Jewish identity branch to the IDF Education Corps is designed to shut down the operations of the unit completely.

“This decision is connected to a long campaign of intimidation despite the fact that the activities of the rabbinate on the issue have reaped widespread praise,” Smotrich claimed.

“There is no religious coercion here, the intention is to close the branch totally and to transfer it to the Education Corps,” he alleged. “If required, we will bring our political power into play.”

Brig.-Gen. Gadi Agmon of the IDF Manpower Directorate, which oversees the Education Corps, denied this was the case, however, saying the unit for Israeli identity was being taken from the Education Corps and the Jewish Identity branch was being taken from the IDF Rabbinate to be synchronized together under the IDF Manpower directorate.

“The purpose is to establish principles of preserving Jewish and democratic principles with the IDF in order to strengthen combat forces,” said Agmon.

Yogev insisted, however, that utilizing biblical sources and messages in educating and motivating soldiers was a positive and necessary educational tool for boosting a sense of purpose and mission.

“Including messages from the Bible gives strength [to soldiers] at certain times and to remove these messages weakens the IDF’s power – it harms the strength of the IDF,” Yogev said.

“The majority of Jewish people in Israel have a connection to Jewish tradition even if they aren’t religious in their daily lives. For the sake of Israeli security, it would be better to return the Jewish identity unit to a those who are experts in this field – the IDF Rabbinate,” Yogev added.

However, Zionist Union MK Eyal Ben-Reuven praised IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot for the decision, saying it was a matter of “balance” within the IDF and that it was perfectly appropriate for the chief of staff to make this decision.

“It has been the case in the past that we fought excellently even without the military rabbinate,” Ben-Reuven quipped.

The decision to transfer the Jewish identity branch out of the military rabbinate appears unlikely to be reversed, despite the protestations of the national-religious political and rabbinic leadership.

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