Ex-IDF chaplain: Body parts may be on battlefield

Rabbinic source: If we do not make it clear that the IDF will do its utmost to bring soldiers to burial, it might hurt soldiers' morale.

weiss 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
weiss 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
IDF soldiers' body parts may have been left behind in Lebanon and other theaters of battle despite heroic efforts, including a calculated risk of other soldiers' lives, to bring them to burial, former OC Chaplaincy Corp Brig.-Gen. Yisrael Weiss said Sunday. Weiss was reacting to comments by Hizbullah head Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, who announced last week that his organization possessed the remains of IDF soldiers who fell in action during the Second Lebanon War. Weiss refused to comment specifically on the body parts of the 119 soldiers killed during the Second Lebanon War. However, he said that there were many cases in which the IDF's chaplaincy was forced to leave behind soldiers' remains in the battlefield out of fear that evacuation would seriously risk lives. "In some cases we verified the death of soldiers without having in our possession the soldier's entire body," said Weiss. "There were occasions in which all we had were two legs, enough to verify death according to Jewish law." A high-ranking rabbinic authority that works closely with the IDF on burial issues said that while Jewish law does not condone risking one's life to perform most commandments, retrieving a dead soldier's body is different. "If we do not make it clear that the IDF will do its utmost to bring soldiers to burial, it might hurt soldiers' morale," said the source. "The soldiers and their families must be assured that if, God forbid, something happens to them they will be given a Jewish burial." Bringing to burial all parts of a Jew's body is highly valued in Jewish culture. Past governments, conscious of the high sensitivity of bereaved parents to unburied loved ones, have traded live terrorists for body parts. One of the most controversial prisoner swaps took place just a few years ago. In January 2004, just hours after a suicide bomber belonging to the Palestinian Authority's police force blew himself up, killing 10, Israel went ahead with a prisoner swap. In a German-mediated deal Israel released 400 Palestinian prisoners and 29 Lebanese prisoners in exchange for businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum and the remains of three soldiers killed by Hizbullah in 2000. Weiss said that while he was aware that Hizbullah cynically exploited Israel's moral sensibilities regarding the bringing to burial of all Jewish body parts, he said that he was "proud" of his Jewish tradition. "Respect for the deceased's body is ingrained in the Jewish psyche," said Weiss. "Until a Jew's loved one is brought to burial he or she cannot be fully comforted. Bereaved families need to know that their loved one was treated with the utmost care and respect after death." A Jew's body is considered sanctified since it is a vehicle for performing God's commandments. Jewish law prohibits cremations and unnecessary autopsies which are considered a desecration of the body's sanctity, and Jewish tradition is manifested in Israeli culture as the need of bereaved families to see their deceased buried. A high-ranking source in the IDF rabbinate told The Jerusalem Post that steps had been taken after the Second Lebanon War to improve the army's ability to retrieve the remains of fallen soldiers in combat situations. The source said that a special unit of soldiers with combat experience has been trained to evacuate soldiers' remains under fire. "During the Second Lebanon War we found that chaplaincy soldiers responsible for bringing to burial deceased soldiers had difficulty performing their duty. We reached the conclusion that we need soldiers who can defend themselves on the battlefield while evacuating soldiers' remains."