It is no easy matter for the IDF to bring together soldiers from diverse
backgrounds to cooperate for the common goal of defending the State of
Societal fault lines between religious and secular, right-wing
and left-wing, Jewish and non-Jewish are very sensitive. With little
provocation, disagreements can quickly devolve into serious confrontations and
disrupt the sort of unity of purpose needed during military duty. Therefore, a
willingness to compromise to find common ground is essential.
to Jewish law – Halacha – is an important aspect of the IDF’s day-to-day
functioning, as it should be in a state that defines itself as Jewish. By
providing them with prayer time and kosher food and by commemorating the Shabbat
and holidays, the army enables religious soldiers to feel comfortable serving in
alongside their secular fellows. Occasionally, however, creating this common
ground can cause some inconveniences for secular soldiers.
That was the
case on Passover eve – which fell last Shabbat – when a group of IDF soldiers,
both religious and secular, were forced to eat cold food because of an IDF
rabbi’s interpretation of Halacha.
Infantry soldiers from the Haruv
Battalion – one of several battalions belonging to the Kfir Brigade, responsible
for maintaining security in Judea and Samaria – returned to their army base from
military activity late on Passover eve. After washing up and sitting down to
read the Haggada and conduct the Seder, the soldiers were told that they would
be served matza, salads and cold cuts, but no hot food. Apparently one of the
cooks had desecrated Shabbat and Passover by connecting a hot plate after
sundown to heat up food. Another cook noticed this and told the rabbi, who ruled
that the food could not be eaten that day. Since IDF health regulations prohibit
the refrigeration of food once it has been cooked and prepared for serving, all
of the heated food had to be thrown out.
It could be that the rabbi was
overzealous in his ruling.
According to many halachic authorities,
desecration of the Shabbat by an irreligious Jew can be seen as unintentional.
Under the circumstances, only an intentional desecration of the Shabbat would
make it forbidden to eat the food.
Nevertheless, after the rabbi made his
ruling, the brigade commander enforced it. All soldiers, both religious and
secular, were obligated by IDF regulations to refrain from eating the food. Some
of the soldiers complained to their parents. One mother told Army Radio that she
could not understand how the brigade commander could allow his soldiers to “go
starve” on Passover eve: “Rabbis are running things in the IDF.
has become haredi [ultra-Orthodox] and there is no rational
WHILE WE sympathize with the mother, the incident
should not be blown out of proportion. The soldiers ate cold food; they did not
starve. And while it appears that more media attention has been devoted in
recent years to religious-related tensions in the IDF due to the sharp rise in
the number of religious men serving, it is a gross exaggeration to suggest that
rabbis are running the IDF. If anything, media attention to the Passover food
incident has more to do with parents’ increasing willingness to interfere with
the inner workings of the IDF.
Bringing together religious and secular
Israelis in a military framework entails compromise on both
Secular soldiers need to understand that enforcing kosher rules
enables their religious fellows to serve with them.
soldiers and their rabbis also have an obligation. They should do their best to
find leniencies in Halacha where possible so that secular soldiers are not
forced to endure unnecessary burdens.
Whether the issue is gender
segregation, threats to refuse military orders to evacuate a settlement, or
adherence to Shabbat, religious soldiers and their rabbis should embrace
moderation, not religious extremism.
Military service is a cooperative
endeavor of cardinal importance. Succeeding at this endeavor entails mutual
compromise and sensitivity to the needs and desires of those who hold different