Ordination not a prerequisite for being army’s top rabbi

Surprising information arises during Knesset discussion that would make the IDF chief chaplain a member of the Chief Rabbinate Council.

February 9, 2011 00:09
2 minute read.
Ordination not a prerequisite for being army’s top rabbi

uri Ariel 248.88. (photo credit: Knesset)


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Being an ordained rabbi is not officially a prerequisite for being named the IDF’s chief chaplain, nor it is explicitly stated anywhere that a candidate for the position must be a Jew, MKs were amazed to learn during a Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee hearing on Tuesday.

This somewhat surprising bit of information arose during a discussion on a bill sponsored by MK Uri Ariel (National Union) that would make the IDF chief chaplain a member of the Chief Rabbinate Council, the 17-rabbi body composed of senior rabbis nationwide, which serves primarily as an advisory panel to the two chief rabbis, who also head the council.

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While the committee supported the bill and approved it for its first reading in the Knesset, committee chairman David Azoulay (Shas) and other members expressed concern that the bill, as currently written, could allow a Reform rabbi to be appointed IDF chief chaplain and effectively become part of the Chief Rabbinate Council.

The IDF’s chief chaplain is chosen by the chief of General Staff, and his appointment is approved by the defense minister. The process is always coordinated with the Chief Rabbinate, and the chief chaplains have always been Orthodox.

IDF chief chaplains already have observer status in the Chief Rabbinate Council. The rationale behind Ariel’s bill is that given the large scope of the responsibilities pertaining to Jewish law in the army, and the large numbers of conversions in the IDF, the chief chaplain should become an inherent part of the state’s rabbinate.

Ariel also noted on Tuesday that his initiative had the approval of both the Chief Rabbinate Council and current Chief Chaplain Rabbi Brig.-Gen. Rafi Peretz.

The concern over the religious timbre and qualifications of the chief IDF rabbi was shared by all of the MKs in the room, who represented Shas, United Torah Judaism, National Union and Kadima, which was represented by MK Othniel Schneller, who is Orthodox.

The rabbinic courts legal adviser, Rabbi Shimon Yaakobi, took these concerns to the absurd, when he told the MKs that technically, not only does the army’s chief chaplain not have to be an ordained rabbi, but “a Muslim or Christian could even be appointed, since there are no criteria or prerequisites for the position, besides being the choice of the defense minister and chief of General Staff.”

Azoulay wrapped up the meeting by saying that the committee would add an amendment to Ariel’s bill, under which the chief IDF rabbi must be confirmed as a rabbi by the Chief Rabbinate Council.

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