IDF chief rabbi Brigadier-General Rafi Peretz .
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
Complaints surfaced on Wednesday about rabbis who gave motivational speeches of a religious nature to soldiers at staging areas for the ground operation in Gaza.
In one recording broadcast by Reshet Bet radio, a rabbi speaking to reservist soldiers spoke about what he described as the differences between the soldiers and their enemy.
“We’re talking about beasts of men, I’m sorry for using such language, but that’s what we’re talking about,” the rabbi said. “They are prepared to be killed in order to kill a baby.
They are not worth anything.
They are full of hate. The difference between us and them is that we are full of love and they are full of hate.”
In another recording, a rabbi addressing reservists said that when the soldiers return home, “we will create a more caring, sensitive, more loving society, we’re writing a new chapter in history, a new chapter in the Bible.”
A reservist who had participated in the recent campaign spoke to Reshet Bet and said that although soldiers were not obligated to listen to the rabbi’s speeches they were nevertheless given in general communal areas.
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Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald, dean of the Modi’in Hesder Yeshiva and a colonel in the IDF Reserves, rejected the criticism however and noted that the IDF rabbinate’s Jewish Consciousness Department had invited the rabbis to staging areas to speak with the soldiers.
Shenvald himself went to speak with students of his yeshiva who were involved in the fighting during Operation Protective Edge and coordinated his visit through the IDF, although he wasn’t one of the rabbis whom the military specifically invited.
Shenvald said soldiers were not in any way required to listen to the speeches and that anyone who wanted to leave could do so.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office stated that soldiers were free to decide if they wished to attend the talks.
“These complaints come from extremists in our society who just want to find a reason for an argument,” said Shenvald, and claimed that such objections came from “sectors of society who used to, but now no longer dominate the officer corps.”
Shenvald said that rabbis addressing soldiers spoke of matters pertaining to the war including mutual responsibility, the imperative not to be afraid, Jewish heritage, and the importance of Jewish unity.
He said that there was no discussion of Jewish law pertaining to war in speeches given to the soldiers.
The rabbi rejected any idea that the Jewish content of motivational address to soldiers could in any way be used to promote the idea of holy war.
Shenvald said Judaism was a peaceful religion and that Jewish liturgy was replete with prayers for peace so that it could not be corrupted to an ideology of war.
“During recent weeks we saw the Jewish people at its best, and I pray we can preserve it.
These unjust reports are especially upsetting because of the special atmosphere of unity that we have witnessed during these hard times.”
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