Chief IDF rabbi begins consultations on captive soldiers

Determining the death of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev in accordance with Jewish legal criteria will take several days.

Regev Goldwasser 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
Regev Goldwasser 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Determining the death of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev in accordance with Jewish legal criteria will take the OC Chaplaincy Corps Rabbi Avichai Ronsky several days, according to sources close to the IDF's Rabbinate. "Rabbi Avichai began consulting with senior rabbinical authorities before making the final decision on whether or not the two can be declared dead," said the source. "All of the intelligence information made available by the IDF and the Mossad will be used by Rabbi Ronsky to determine whether the two soldiers can be declared halachically deceased." Tuesday morning Ronsky met with Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar to discuss the halachic issues involved. Rabbinical sources also guessed that former chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef would be involved in the final decision. Yosef has extensive experience determining the death of soldiers from his stint as chief rabbi during and after the Yom Kippur War. Yosef also dealt with these issues after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Ronsky is close to Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Arba and Hebron Dov Lior and Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem's Old City Avigdor Nebenzahl, and is expected to consult with them. According to IDF directives the chief rabbi is the sole authority responsible for deciding all issues involving burial or determining death of soldiers. IDF Spokesman Col. Avi Benayahu said on Army Radio Tuesday that "Rabbi Ronsky has complete sovereignty on this issue. There are no political considerations involved here whatsoever. Just what Rabbi Ronsky decides in accordance with Halacha." Rabbi Yisrael Weiss, the former IDF chief rabbi who determined the death of Staff Sgt. Binyamin Abraham, Staff Sgt. Adi Avitan and Staff Sgt. Omar Sawaid, who were killed during a kidnapping attempt on Har Dov in 2000, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the consultations were partly out of a need to receive advice and guidance . "But the main reason for all the consultations is to give the families the feeling that the final decision is a definitive one," said Weiss. Weiss said there were three different types of evidence acceptable according to Jewish law that would help Ronsky reach his decision. "First, there are statements made by political leaders such as [Hizbullah head Hassan] Nasrallah either publicly or in private conversations that were picked up by our intelligence regarding the fate of Regev and Goldwasser. "Second, there are off-the-cuff comments made by individuals who might have inside information about what happened to the two. "Finally, there is forensic and ballistic information from the scene of the kidnapping that sheds light on the likelihood that the two soldiers were killed by the missile that hit their armored car." A source in the rabbinate told the Post that, from information gathered at the scene of the kidnapping, it was highly likely that the two soldiers were killed by the missile. "Judging from the amount of blood and the estimated impact of the missile the two were killed," said the source. The final decision by Ronsky will be made together with two other IDF rabbis. Three rabbis make up a panel of judges for a rabbinical court. If the panel of judges headed by Ronsky decides that Regev and Goldwasser should be declared "deceased soldiers whose place of burial is unknown" there would be several ramifications. From a Jewish perspective the most important result of the decision would be the granting of permission to Karnit Goldwasser, wife of Ehud, to remarry. Until Goldwasser is declared dead Karnit is forbidden to remarry, rather she is considered an Agunah or "chained" woman. Also, immediately after the declaration, the close family of the two soldiers would begin the seven day mourning period [shiva] followed by a less intense 30-day period of mourning. Weiss said that the most difficult aspect of the process of determining the death of soldiers is the unwillingness of the families to accept the verdict. "I've seen it time and again that the families prefer to cling to what they call hope, and I call delusion, rather than confront the reality that their loved ones are no longer with us."