'Pessah faith makes for better soldiers'

Rabbi of IDF Central Command to 'Post': Koshering is recipe for military success.

soldier talit 298 gaza a (photo credit: AP)
soldier talit 298 gaza a
(photo credit: AP)
Rabbi of IDF Central Command Lt.-Col. Benjamin Makluf is convinced that teaching his soldiers about the Jews' redemption from Egypt will make them better soldiers. "A nation that does not know its past cannot fight for its future," says Makluf. "Pessah is the Independence Day of the Jewish people. That was when the Jewish people was born. Identifying as a people unites us, strengthens us, gives us conviction, resolve." Makluf has taken out time from his busy schedule of koshering the Central Command's 298 eating corners, kitchenettes, cafeterias and mess halls to share a few thoughts about Pessah with The Jerusalem Post. Projected onto the wall of his office is a list of all the army bases, pillboxes, guard towers and military outposts that need to be koshered for Pessah. The burly Makluf, whose face is curtained by a thick black beard, is responsible for koshering all army facilities beyond the Green Line in east and north Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and Judea and Samaria. Makluf "has no doubt" that keeping God's intricate prohibitions against eating leavened bread and performing his commandments to eat matza are just as important to Jewish success on the battlefield as troop training, adjusting sights and keeping technologies up-to-date. When he blowtorches ovens, immerses silverware in big pots of boiling water and replaces treifed utensils, he says, he is helping the war effort just as much as the military strategists, the sharpshooters and the fighter pilots. There are about 200 IDF chaplains, including reservists, responsible for koshering kitchens and conducting the Pessah Seders. But Makluf also trained about 50 additional "religion organizers," several of whom are secular, who will fill in the manpower gaps. These chaplains and religion organizers are taught how to teach the haggada to "all four sons," says Makluf, referring to the wise son, the wicked son, the simple son and the son that does not know how to ask. They are also equipped to answer basic halachic questions that arise in the military setting, such as how to change the guard without interrupting the Seder or how to shorten the Seder in combat situations. "The Torah is the basis of IDF soldiers' morale," says Makluf. "This was proven in the last war. Soldiers were thirsty for anything to do with holiness, spirituality. We had a sharp rise in the demand for phylacteries, Psalms, special prayers for success in battle. The vast majority of soldiers turned to their father in heaven in times of peril. "War awakens a man's faith. A man who has a strong faith is a better soldier." But Makluf says he does not try to convince soldiers to embrace Orthodox Judaism. "As far as I am concerned all soldiers in the army are righteous because they are willing to give their lives to protect the Jewish people," he says. "If they want to learn more about Judaism also, well we here at the IDF rabbinate are here for them."