Likud-RZP agreement: IDF chief rabbi appointed by Sephardic chief rabbi – report

The IDF chief rabbi will be promoted in rank and will answer on halakhic matters to Israel's Rabbinate.

 Head of the Religious Zionist Party MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks next to Head of opposition Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting with the opposition parties at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, on June 28, 2021.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Head of the Religious Zionist Party MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks next to Head of opposition Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting with the opposition parties at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, on June 28, 2021.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The coalition agreement between the Likud and the Religious Zionist Party includes a clause that says the IDF’s chief rabbi will no longer be appointed by the chief of staff but rather by a council headed by the Sephardi chief rabbi, KAN reported.

The clause only says that the sides will pass a law to “strengthen the IDF chief rabbi’s status” by changing “the method of his appointment and his halachic independence,” according to the Friday report.

However, the clause refers to a similar law proposal from the 20th Knesset (2015-2019) that did not pass, which includes a number of provisions, which include, according to KAN:

  • The IDF’s chief rabbi will be promoted to the rank of major-general instead of brigadier-general, and therefore will be a member of the general staff forum.
  •  The IDF chief rabbi will be appointed based on a recommendation from a seven-member committee headed by the Sephardi chief rabbi, which will include a representative of the government, three representatives of yeshivot, a former IDF chief rabbi and the commander of the IDF’s Personnel Directorate.
  • The IDF chief rabbi will answer on halachic matters to Israel’s Rabbinate, which in the past has ruled more stringently than the IDF’s rabbinic authority on matters pertaining to burial of non-Jewish soldiers, mixed-gender IDF units and what constitutes a military necessity that justifies desecrating the Sabbath.

Former IDF officers lash out

Former chief of staff and current National Unity MK Gadi Eisenkot wrote on Facebook that the “decision to take the appointment of the IDF chief rabbi out of the hands of the chief of staff and defense minister stems from [Benjamin] Netanyahu’s political weakness, and from his power-drunk partners. These hurried steps damage the IDF as a unified, statesmanlike army of the people,” he said.

 GADI EISENKOT waves at the launch of the National Unity Party election campaign, in Tel Aviv, earlier this month.  (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90) GADI EISENKOT waves at the launch of the National Unity Party election campaign, in Tel Aviv, earlier this month. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

"These hurried steps damage the IDF as a unified, statesmanlike army of the people."

Former IDF chief of staff and current National Unity MK Gadi Eisenkot

“Facing the State of Israel’s security challenges, we do not have the privilege to turn the IDF into a bargaining chip in the coalition negotiations,” Eisenkot concluded, alluding to additional provisions in the coalition agreements that had RZP chairman Bezalel Smotrich taking control of the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and Civil Administration, and Otzma Yehudit chairman and incoming national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir taking control of the Judea and Samaria Border Police.

Outgoing Intelligence Minister and Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern said “they really lost their limits. If the Sephardi chief rabbi appoints the IDF chief rabbi, why shouldn’t the health minister appoint the IDF’s chief medical officer? And why not have the public security minister appoint the chief military police officer? And the education minister appoint the IDF’s chief education officer?”

He also noted the incoming coalition’s intention to legislate broad exemptions for haredim from national service or service in the IDF, and concluded that “they should not be surprised when the IDF’s capabilities are critically compromised.”

Where is the Likud-RZP coalition agreement?

The official agreement between the Likud and RZP has not yet been signed nor made public, although the sides announced on Wednesday that they had reached a final agreement.

Instead, its different clauses have been reported in bits and pieces, with another reported clause that will enable discrimination in private businesses based on religious belief also creating an uproar.

Netanyahu has until January 2 to present his government, and the fully signed coalition agreements need to be presented to the public at least 24 hours beforehand. So far, the only agreement that was published in full was the agreement between the Likud and United Torah Judaism – but it was only signed by UTJ’s hassidic faction, Agudat Yisrael, and not by its Lithuanian faction, Degel Hatorah.