Bina, a secular and pluralist organization that promotes Jewish culture and
identity, has begun teaching a course for IDF officers designed to strengthen
their Jewish and Israeli values and character.
The course, called “Yeyud
Ve’Yichud”, or Purpose and Identity in English, is a required step for officers
wishing to be promoted to the rank of major and is obligatory for all IDF
departments. It is paid for by the Ministry of Defense and is designed to
educate and inculcate officers with Jewish values, ethics and
Although the development has been welcomed by pluralist groups,
former IDF Chief Rabbi Avichai Rontzki labeled the news
The IDF Spokesman’s Office together with the Defense
Ministry said that “the contents of the course were established by the IDF
Education Corps and deals with issues of Israeli-Jewish identity, Israeli
society, and the role of a commander and educator.”
The course was established 10 years ago by the army in conjunction with the Shalom Hartman Institute, which describes itself as a pluralistic and non-denominational Jewish education network and which ran the program until this year.
The institute was
established by the late Rabbi David Hartman, a pioneer of liberal- Orthodox
Judaism and is currently run by his son Rabbi Donniel Hartman, who is also
A spokesman for the institute said that the Purpose and
Identity program became very large and so the IDF decided to split the course
for different ranks.
The IDF subsequently issued a public tender for
teaching the course that was ultimately awarded to Bina.
program covers issues such as Jewish pluralism and denominationalism, Jewish
culture and civilization, Zionism as a social justice movement, Judaism and
democracy, unity and diversity, social and economic disparities in Israel,
bridging religious-secular divides, non-Jewish minorities in Israel, and other
The course is taught by Bina lecturers and other educators
associated with the organization, as well as reserve IDF officers.
are 10 courses every year with 75 IDF officers attending each one.
has already conducted its inaugural program and the second course begins this
Although Bina is now in charge of the Purpose and Identity
course, the Shalom Hartman Institute will continue to run a similar course for
officers ranks Lt.-Col. and above.
A spokeswoman for the Posen
Foundation, which supports Bina, welcomed the news and said that it was
important that secular and traditional soldiers and officers were exposed to
Bina’s perspective and message.
“The IDF rabbinate provides Orthodox
input to soldiers but obviously large numbers of the army are traditional and
secular and it is important that an organization like Bina can provide input on
Jewish values and identity for such people,” she said “The Posen Foundation and
Bina approach Judaism as a culture and heritage, and as part of being Israeli
and it is important that this voice is heard in the army.”
chief Rabbi Avichai Rontzki criticized the decision to transfer the course,
calling it “problematic.”
“The Purpose and Identity course deals with
important and substantial issues such as Jewish values and their relation to
Jewish heritage,” the rabbi told The Jerusalem Post.
“The course is being
transferred from a religious institution, like the Hartman Institute, to a
secular organization that actually flies the banner of secularism,” he
“I appreciate what Bina does but with all due respect, our
patriarch was Abraham not Herzl.”
Rontski said that programs like the
Purpose and Identity course should be carried out in cooperation with the IDF
rabbinate and its department for Jewish awareness.
Yizhar Hess, the
director of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel welcomed the news.
“Dealing with Jewish identity in the IDF has to be done with great care and with
an emphasis on the numerous faces of the Jewish world, whether religious or
secular,” said Hess.
“Any educational program which emphasizes pluralism
and the fact that there are ‘70 faces to the Torah’ is welcome.”