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(photo credit: Channel 2)
A new chief chaplain for the IDF will be chosen in the coming days, probably the most controversial and thankless rabbinic post that can be offered to a religious Zionist spiritual leader following implementation of the disengagement plan.
Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz and OC Personnel Elazar Stern have interviewed more than 10 candidates, with one of the main criteria for acceptance being faithful opposition to insubordination, according to military sources.
Rabbi Avichai Ronsky, head of the hesder yeshiva in Itamar, and Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, one of the heads of Yeshivat Petah Tikva, were the leading candidates to replace OC Chaplaincy Corps Brig.-Gen. Yisrael Weiss, the sources said.
Stern, a religious Zionist, would likely have more input in making the decision than Halutz, they added.
One of front-running candidates, Rabbi Re'em Hakohen, head of the Otniel Yeshiva, backed out after deciding he would be unable to obligate himself to unconditional loyalty to IDF commands, a source close to Hakohen said.
"The clash at Amona made Hakohen realize that there are blatantly immoral military commands," he said.
"Amona also made him realize that our security forces have been used by politicians to further short-term political goals," the source added, hinting that Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert instigated violence at Amona to demonstrate his resolve.
Hakohen's decision accentuates the dilemma facing every religious Zionist: loyalty to the state clashing with loyalty to the ideal of Greater Israel.
Weiss was severely criticized by a large segment of religious Zionists for cooperating with the evacuation of settlers from Gush Katif instead of resigning. He was seen by many as a traitor to the Greater Israel ideal, and right-wing activists regularly demonstrated outside his house.
Criticism against Weiss reached new heights after photos were released showing him and other IDF rabbis laughing and eating immediately after disinterring Jewish graves in Gush Katif and reburying them.
Ronsky is preferred over Cherlow, both by the IDF and by rabbis, according to rabbis who spoke to The Jerusalem Post.
"Cherlow's political views are to the left of mainstream religious Zionism and his religious views are too liberal," said a senior hesder rabbi. "Ronsky, although less charismatic, is more middle-of-the-road."
Ronsky, 54, a resident of Itamar, is the author of three books of responsa on halachic issues pertinent to the religious soldier. He has a lenient halachic position regarding allowing the desecration of the Shabbat for military needs. This position, which has been criticized by other rabbis, may make him more attractive to IDF commanders who want a minimum of religious restrictions on their soldiers.
Ronsky learned at Yeshivat Mercaz Harav. He was raised in Haifa in a secular household. At the age of 26, after finishing his stint as a career soldier, he embraced Orthodoxy and received his rabbinic ordination at Kolel Meretz in Mevaseret Zion.
After living in Eilon Moreh for several years, Ronsky left to establish nearby Itamar. He taught at Yeshivat Ateret Kohanim before becoming the head of the pre-military yeshiva academy Yatir. Today he heads the hesder yeshiva in Itamar, which has some 120 students.
During the Yom Kippur War, Ronsky, a colonel, commanded the elite Shaked Reconnaissance Unit.
In an interview with the Post, he said his lenient halachic position was a product of his intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the IDF.
Ronsky said if he were offered the chief chaplaincy he would have to thoroughly investigate the demands of the position and meet with IDF heads before he accepted.