Thousands tell IDF to return to original memorial prayer

Online petition calls on Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz to revert to original version, which gives no mention to God.

By JONAH MANDEL
June 21, 2011 02:51
2 minute read.
Funeral for prison guard Ronen Peretz

Prison guard funeral in Ashkelon 521. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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The argument over the wording of the IDF’s memorial prayer has gone up a notch, with over 40,000 people signing an online petition by Monday night calling on Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz to revert to the original version that gives no mention to God.

Yehudit Bialer, whose son Yoram was killed in the line of duty in 1969, initiated the petition on Thursday, in wake of the recent report on Haaretz that Gantz had decided on the long-standing issue of the opening of the Yizkor text recited at military ceremonies.

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“We... object to changing the version of “Let the people of Israel remember” with “Let God remember,” the petition reads.

“The original version was written by Berl Katznelson in memory of the fatalities of the Battle of Tel Hai in 1920. Since then to now, this is the “Yizkor” version for Israel's war fatalities. We call on the chief of staff to retain the original “Let the people of Israel remember” version,” writes Bialer.

But that memorial prayer was actually altered in 1967 from Katznelson’s original wording of “Let the people of Israel remember” to “Let God remember” by then-IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren, who was shocked to discover that the official text used in the army’s ceremonies did not refer to God. Since then, both versions have been in use.

The debate has touched an open nerve in Israeli society. Eli Ben-Shem, head of the Yad Labanim soldiers’ memorial organization, said it received hundreds of phone calls from angry bereaved parents over the past week, hurt by the chief of staff’s decision.

“There are two versions that are used inconsistently,” Ben- Shem explained. “The army should have held an in-depth discussion with us and the Defense Ministry. It seems as though the chief of staff made the decision on an impulse,” he said.



“Yad Labanim will be holding a discussion on the matter next week, but personally I’d try to find common ground for the sides, something unifying that religious and secular families could identify with.

“What really bothers me here is that the chief of staff issued the announcement without holding a discussion, despite the good cooperation between us and the military over the years,” added Ben-Shem. “This is a very sensitive topic that deals with values and issues of principle.”

Besides the Katznelson text, military memorial ceremonies also contain the “God full of mercy” (El Male Rahamim) prayer.

“This is not a religious issue, rather a humane one,” Rabbi David Stav, chairman of the modern-Orthodox Tzohar Rabbis organization, said of the Yizkor text. “Some feel that if you remove God's name, you take away from who can remember. We proposed in a letter to the chief of staff this afternoon to quell the argument by combining both elements. Everyone wants the people of Israel, and God, to remember.

“The argument is very sensitive and emotional,” Stav said. “We can’t let bereavement divide religious and secular people.”

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