The funeral of Former OC Chaplaincy Corps Maj.-Gen. (res.) Gad Navon was scheduled to take place at four p.m. Monday at Jerusalem's Mt. Herzl cemetery.
Navon passed away Sunday morning after battling Parkinson's disease.
Navon began his lifelong military career in 1948 when he immigrated to Israel to take part in the War of Independence as part of the French Volunteer Commando Unit that joined the Palmach's Brit Halutzim Dati'im (religious pioneers). He served on the Southern Front with forces that liberated Beersheba, Ashkelon and Ashdod.
Rabbis who knew him claim that he lied about his age when he arrived in Israel. Therefore, these rabbis question reports that Navon was 84 at the time of his death.
Navon was born and raised in Morocco, where he received his religious education and was ordained as a rabbi. He also received a degree in life sciences from the Sorbonne.
He worked his way up the IDF ranks under Rabbi Shlomo Goren (1948-1968), the OC Chaplaincy Corps who had a strong intellectual influence on Navon. Later, Navon served under Rabbi Mordechai Peron (1968-1977). Navon was IDF chief rabbi for 23 years - longer than both of his predecessors. He retired in 2000.
Under Peron and later as IDF chief rabbi, Navon was instrumental in increasing the number of IDF rabbis in all divisions, including in reserve duty. He also fought to maintain a high level of kosher supervision and strict protection of the Shabbat.
However, rabbis who served with Navon said that in his final decade as IDF chief rabbi, he was ineffectual.
"A lot of good rabbis left the IDF because of Navon," said a former high-ranking IDF rabbi. "He stayed on too long and blocked the advancement of talented men."
Navon's critics felt that in his last years he was dictatorial and squashed individual initiative. They also said that Navon was overly cautious about being accused of influencing secular soldiers to embrace religion.
Navon was not an eloquent speaker. Instead, he customarily read chapters from Psalms in a heavy French accent during national events at which he officiated. He was known for his extraordinary memory of Jewish texts. Although he excelled at rote learning, he was not much of an analytical scholar, said rabbis who knew him.
Rabbi Yossi Harel, who served as his deputy for several years, said that Navon was fearless in battle.
"During the Suez crossing in the Yom Kippur War, Navon sat with me in the car," recalled Harel. "We were all scared. But Navon was different. He infected us with his bravery."
Both critics and supporters said that Navon gave full support to IDF rabbis accused of being overly stringent in halachic decisions.
"If a rabbi was singled out by a commander for censure because he ruled that food was not kosher or a training exercise was forbidden on Shabbat, Navon always gave him full backing," said a critic.
Rabbi Pinhas Izak, who knew Navon from the Goren era, said that Navon should be remembered for his good years.
"He built up the IDF rabbinate as Peron's deputy," said Izak. "He expanded the Chaplaincy Corps' responsibilities for dead bodies, both their identification and their burial.
He also helped to integrate Sephardi rabbis in IDF ranks."
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