Former IDF chief rabbi to head new religious services post

Naftali Bennett at cabinet meeting 370 (photo credit: Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Yediot Aharonot)
Naftali Bennett at cabinet meeting 370
(photo credit: Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Yediot Aharonot)
Former IDF chief rabbi Brig.- Gen. Avichai Rontzki has been appointed to head up the new Directorate for Jewish Identity, which has been created within the Religious Services Ministry.
The purpose of the new body, whose establishment was stipulated in the coalition agreement between Likud Beytenu and Bayit Yehudi, is to imbue Jewish values in Israeli society.
Although the exact activities and operations of the new department are not yet clear, the directorate will most likely provide educational NGOs and organizations with funding for different public programs designed to strengthen Jewish identity.
The news of the new government body and Rontzki’s appointment was panned, however, by several non- Orthodox groups, which claimed that the directorate duplicated the role of the Education Ministry and that the rabbi was not an appropriate figure for the position.
“All activities in the realm of Jewish identity supported by public funds should represent all streams of Judaism in an equal and pluralistic fashion,” the Reform Movement in Israel said in a press statement.
“Taking into consideration processes initiated by Rabbi Rontzki in the IDF Chief Rabbinate and the tension this caused with the Education Corps, there is certainly cause for concern that his directorate will be turned into a tool for the advancement of one particular perspective of Judaism that negates the legitimacy of different Jewish streams and denominations,” said Reform Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform Movement in Israel.
While serving as IDF chief rabbi from 2006 to 2010, Rontzki introduced a similar program for the IDF Chief Rabbinate, which received considerable criticism for infringing on the role of the army Education Corps.
The Reform movement said it would appeal to the Attorney- General’s Office and to the state comptroller to examine any possible duplication of roles the new body might create.
In response to the accusations, Rontzki, who currently serves as dean of a yeshiva in the settlement of Itamar, said on his Facebook page that the most important issue facing the Jewish people today was the strengthening of national Jewish identity.
“The proof of this is the repeated attacks of a group of elitists against people working in this field, especially if they are national-religious or settlers,” wrote Rontzki.
He said criticism of the new initiative was emblematic of this group.
The Directorate for Jewish Identity was the brainchild of Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett along with party colleague Ayelet Shaked and Rontzki himself, with whom Bennett has a close relationship.