IDF panel keeps God out of Yizkor prayer

Committee rules "Yizkor Am Yisrael" and "Yizkor Elohim" to be taken out of IDF prayer after it was revealed different units used different wording.

August 4, 2011 18:19
2 minute read.
Israel remembers its fallen soldiers at Mt. Herzel

Yizkor tekes 311. (photo credit: ITRAVELJERUSALEM TEAM)


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The IDF will retain the original wording of the Yizkor memorial prayer with “Yizkor Am Yisrael” (May the People of Israel Remember), and not “Yizkor Elohim” (May God Remember), a military committee tasked with ruling on the issue announced on Thursday.

IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz approved the recommendation.

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Gantz appointed Maj.-Gen. Yishai Be’er (res.) to head the committee in July after controversy erupted regarding the wording that should be used by the military during its memorial ceremonies. Chief IDF Rabbi Brig.-Gen. Rafi Peretz and Chief Education Officer Brig.-Gen. Eli Shermeister also served on the panel.

The panel found that various units in the IDF held by Berl Katznelson’s original version of Yizkor with “Am Yisrael” while other units used the wording of “Elohim” that was designated as the military’s official wording by then-IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren in 1962.

On Thursday, Be’er sent Gantz a letter with the panel’s decision and said that the members were “embarrassed” to discover that IDF units acted independently in deciding which wording to use at their individual ceremonies. The panel found that approximately 50 percent of the units used one version of Yizkor while the other 50% used the other version.

“We found that the IDF order [from 1962] was not implemented in a large number of units and in other units the wording of ‘Am Yisrael’ was used,” Be’er wrote in his letter, adding that the panel was also dismayed to discover that religious elements of military ceremonies – such as the kaddish prayer and the reciting of the prayer El Male Rahamim (God Full of Compassion) – a prayer recited at funerals and ceremonies – and a chapter of Psalms was also not regulated in military law.

Following a meeting Thursday evening with Be’er, Gantz said that the IDF was obligated to remember its fallen. “We will know how to sound the voice of the fallen in a clear voice while sharing in the pain of the bereaved families,” Gantz said.

The controversy surrounding the Yizkor prayer erupted earlier this summer when a letter was sent by the General Staff secretariat to journalist Menashe Raz saying that “Yizkor Elohim” was the mandatory wording at army ceremonies, drawing the ire of thousands of bereaved families.

During the panel’s work, it considered a compromise that combined both versions.

This alternative was supported by Peretz, who was in a minority within the panel.

“While we understand and respect the chief rabbi’s decision, a majority of the panel members believe that it is important to create an appropriate balance between the various opinions within Israeli society and among the bereaved families,” Be’er wrote in his recommendation to the chief of General Staff.

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