IDF: Soldier cannot say kaddish in shul

Military Rabbinate denies Conservative soldier access to her army base synagogue to recite prayer.

soldiers pray gaza 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
soldiers pray gaza 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Military Rabbinate denied a Masorti (Conservative) female soldier access to her army base's synagogue last week to recite the kaddish mourning prayer for her deceased grandmother. Rabbi Eyal Krim, head of the IDF's Halacha Department, ruled in accordance with many Orthodox rabbis who forbid women from reciting kaddish in a synagogue, even when there are men reciting kaddish simultaneously. Krim ruled instead that the soldier, who serves in a Nahal unit affiliated with the Masorti Movement's Noam youth organization, would be allowed to use a classroom on the base and assemble a quorum of women there. However, the soldier, who initially abided by Krim's ruling and prayed in a classroom, opted instead to leave the base during the shiva for her grandmother and recite kaddish in a synagogue, Rabbi Barry Schlesinger, president of Masorti Movement's Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, said on Thursday. "She felt rejected and discriminated against for being forced to pray outside the synagogue," Schlesinger said. "She wanted to honor her grandmother by reciting the kaddish in a house of prayer." "But," he added, "I think the dialogue that took place between our movement and the IDF Chaplaincy during the incident helped deepen understanding that there are soldiers in the IDF who are religious but choose to express their faith in a way that does not necessarily fit the Orthodox rubric. "These are young men and women who went to TALI schools [which provide pluralistic Jewish education], progressive high schools, and were members of our Noam youth movement. And they have a religious self-identification that obligates them to adhere to religious deeds such as saying kaddish for a deceased relative, but in a way that does not always fit in with Orthodox practice." The IDF Spokesman's Office said in response, "Last week, a female soldier asked the rabbis of her army base if she could be allowed to organize a women-only minyan so that she could recite kaddish. Several options were offered which would allow the bereaved soldier to give expression to her faith while at the same time maintaining the customs of the synagogue on the base. In the end it was agreed that the soldier would be allowed to organize a minyan in a classroom in accordance with her faith. And that is what the soldier chose to do. "It should be emphasized that the IDF is doing its best to respect and maintain its soldiers' freedom of religious expression in accordance with the different religious streams to which they belong." The soldier, who plans to enter an officer training course, preferred anonymity out of concern that being publicly connected with the incident would hurt her army career. The soldier was notified last week that her grandmother passed away. She was granted a seven-day leave by the IDF to enable her to take part in the mourning. However, she opted to return to her base after one day, since the funeral was to take place in the US while she planned to remain in Israel. The soldier's father, who traveled to the US for the funeral, asked his daughter to recite kaddish for her grandmother since there would not be a minyan at the home where he and other close relatives of the grandmother would be sitting shiva. When the female soldier first turned to the rabbi of her base, he allowed her to recite the kaddish in the synagogue, in accordance with more lenient Orthodox rabbinical opinions, according to sources in the Masorti Movement. However, an Orthodox female soldier on the base who apparently disapproved of the rabbi's decision notified her personal rabbi, who ruled that it was unacceptable to allow a woman to recite kaddish in the synagogue. Krim intervened and overturned the decision of the rabbi on the army base. A source in the IDF said in response to the decision by the Conservative Movement to notify the media of the incident, "We are sorry that, despite the willingness and honest desire for cooperation on our part, Conservative rabbis chose not to exhaust channels of communication agreed upon in a meeting last week between the Conservative Movement and the IDF's Rabbinate." The army source was referring to a meeting that took place between Schlesinger and Rabbi Andrew Sacks, director of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, Krim and IDF Chief Rabbi Brig.-Gen. Avichai Ronski. The meeting took place before the kaddish dispute became known. Sources in the Conservative Movement said in response that "this incident has shown clearly that attempts to create channels of communication with the IDF Rabbinate have failed. IDF rabbis are unable or unwilling to provide our soldiers with the desired religious freedom they need. We see our only option as turning directly to the chief of the General Staff." Orthodox rabbis who oppose women reciting kaddish argue that it weakens the legal strength of generations of custom. It also gives the false impression, they say, that a woman can be counted as one of 10 people needed to complete a minyan. Rabbis are also concerned about the prohibition of hearing a woman's voice in public, which could lead to sexual fantasizing. Finally, they note, the textual source for the custom of reciting kaddish refers solely to males. In contrast, Orthodox rabbis who argue in favor of the practice say that women, like men, have an obligation to sanctify God's name by declaring their continued faith in God despite their bereavement. In addition, recitation of the kaddish is a way of respecting the deceased relative. Also, the practice is seen as a way for the person reciting the kaddish to come closer to God. Finally, these Orthodox rabbis argue that being more open to women's desire to honor the deceased prevents them from having to resort to Conservative Judaism. In contrast, most Conservative rabbis have a completely gender-equal approach to religious adherence with both men and women able to perform all ritual acts, including serving as a rabbi, being counted along with men in a minyan, reading from the Torah and reciting kaddish. The Military Rabbinate's ruling on the recitation of kaddish could also pose a problem for Orthodox female soldiers from more liberal streams within Orthodoxy. There are numerous educational institutions and communities such as the Shalom Hartman Institute's Midrashiya high school for girls and the Kehilat Shira Hadasha congregation, both in the capital, which view themselves as Orthodox but which promote a more egalitarian role for women in prayer and other roles. This is not the first time Conservative soldiers have clashed with the IDF's Rabbinate. Last Yom Kippur, a group of Conservative female soldiers were denied the right to organize a minyan and use the Torah scroll on an army base.•