“Do you think that the people of Israel need an army?” Rabbi Shalom Cohen asked during a sermon. “It is God almighty who fights for Israel.”
The foremost religious arbiter in the Shas movement raised eyebrows on Wednesday when, during a special prayer held at Jerusalem’s Western Wall for IDF soldiers, he remarked that “Israel doesn’t need an army.”
The comments by Cohen, the man who succeeded the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef as spiritual leader of Shas, drew rebukes from secular Israelis, as IDF soldiers continue to operate in the Gaza Strip on the 17th day of Operation Protective Edge.
When stunned worshipers asked the rabbi to offer a blessing for IDF troops, he replied, “Do you think you are fighting? I am fighting for you. We screamed out to God: ‘Save us without inflicting anymore sorrow on the people of Israel.’” The head of Hiddush, a religious freedom lobbying group, lambasted the rabbi for the comments.
“If the country doesn’t need an army, then there’s no doubt that the yeshivot and Torah students don’t need budgets from the Treasury,” Uri Regev, the director- general of Hiddush, said. “From now on, they can put their faith in the Lord when it comes to asking for money to fund their education systems. We will help the ultra-Orthodox in saying earnest prayers for money to start growing on trees.”
“At the end of the day, most of us believe that we do need an army, but we are quite uncertain as to whether we need Shas,” Regev said.
Alumni gather to support US lone soldier wounded in Gaza • By YONAH JEREMY BOB While Israel mourned the deaths of two American lone soldiers in the Gaza war this week, another Golan Brigade soldier, Baltimore native Jordan Low, was recovering from serious wounds he sustained in battle at The Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus.
Low, a sharpshooter in the IDF who has lived in Israel for about a year and is a 2013 graduate of the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Baltimore, was hospitalized for smoke inhalation after helping soldiers from his 15-man unit escape from a burning building in northern Gaza on Sunday.
The soldiers had been searching for weapons in Gaza when the building was hit by rockets.
On news of his injuries, his Baltimore school’s Facebook page sprang into action, helping to connect alumni to Low’s story and location to show support.
Among other visitors, the lone soldier received a group of well-wishing Beth Tfiloh graduates – with little to no connection to him.
The school’s current students held a public recitation of psalms for his speedy recovery.
During the visit, they brought Jordan words of encouragement, pastries and children’s drawings. However, due to his respiratory injuries, he was not able to talk much and most of the discussion was with his father, Jeffrey Low.
During his short time at his son’s side, Jeffery had been trying to discern the expected treatment plan and navigate the Israeli medical system in a medical culture that while sometimes overlaps with the US also can appear alien at times.
Jeffery had not been there long, having had to switch to an El Al plane after originally boarding the Delta flight that was redirected to France mid-flight.
“He’s my hero,” Jeffrey Low told The Baltimore Sun. “My two boys have learned to think about others before themselves.”
Low and his second son, Joshua, flew to Israel on Monday night. His wife Suzanne died in 2010.
Zipora Schorr, the Beth Tfiloh director of education, said: “The outpouring of support and love for Jordan has been astounding; we are all part of a family, and that’s what families do.”
She added: “We are proud of all of our ‘children,’ graduates who have shown their love for Israel by joining the IDF, by making aliya, by being active members of Klal Yisrael [the people of Israel].”
She said that graduates recognize the importance of a strong Israel and are “willing to put themselves and their lives on the line to prove it.”