Secular organization to teach Jewish values and identity course to IDF officers

Former IDF chief rabbi says "problematic" for group that "flies flag of secularism" to be in charge of course.

An IDF soldier on the Golan Heights 370 (photo credit: Courtesy IDF)
An IDF soldier on the Golan Heights 370
(photo credit: Courtesy IDF)
Bina, a secular and pluralist organization that promotes Jewish culture and identity, has begun teaching a course for IDF officers designed to strengthen their Jewish and Israeli values and character.
The course, called “Yeyud Ve’Yichud”, or Purpose and Identity in English, is a required step for officers wishing to be promoted to the rank of major and is obligatory for all IDF departments. It is paid for by the Ministry of Defense and is designed to educate and inculcate officers with Jewish values, ethics and identity.
Although the development has been welcomed by pluralist groups, former IDF Chief Rabbi Avichai Rontzki labeled the news “problematic.”
The IDF Spokesman’s Office together with the Defense Ministry said that “the contents of the course were established by the IDF Education Corps and deals with issues of Israeli-Jewish identity, Israeli society, and the role of a commander and educator.”
The course was established 10 years ago by the army in conjunction with the Shalom Hartman Institute, which describes itself as a pluralistic and non-denominational Jewish education network and which ran the program until this year.
The institute was established by the late Rabbi David Hartman, a pioneer of liberal- Orthodox Judaism and is currently run by his son Rabbi Donniel Hartman, who is also Orthodox.
A spokesman for the institute said that the Purpose and Identity program became very large and so the IDF decided to split the course for different ranks.
The IDF subsequently issued a public tender for teaching the course that was ultimately awarded to Bina.
The 10-day program covers issues such as Jewish pluralism and denominationalism, Jewish culture and civilization, Zionism as a social justice movement, Judaism and democracy, unity and diversity, social and economic disparities in Israel, bridging religious-secular divides, non-Jewish minorities in Israel, and other issues.
The course is taught by Bina lecturers and other educators associated with the organization, as well as reserve IDF officers.
There are 10 courses every year with 75 IDF officers attending each one.
Bina has already conducted its inaugural program and the second course begins this coming Sunday.
Although Bina is now in charge of the Purpose and Identity course, the Shalom Hartman Institute will continue to run a similar course for officers ranks Lt.-Col. and above.
A spokeswoman for the Posen Foundation, which supports Bina, welcomed the news and said that it was important that secular and traditional soldiers and officers were exposed to Bina’s perspective and message.
“The IDF rabbinate provides Orthodox input to soldiers but obviously large numbers of the army are traditional and secular and it is important that an organization like Bina can provide input on Jewish values and identity for such people,” she said “The Posen Foundation and Bina approach Judaism as a culture and heritage, and as part of being Israeli and it is important that this voice is heard in the army.”
Former IDF chief Rabbi Avichai Rontzki criticized the decision to transfer the course, calling it “problematic.”
“The Purpose and Identity course deals with important and substantial issues such as Jewish values and their relation to Jewish heritage,” the rabbi told The Jerusalem Post.
“The course is being transferred from a religious institution, like the Hartman Institute, to a secular organization that actually flies the banner of secularism,” he said.
“I appreciate what Bina does but with all due respect, our patriarch was Abraham not Herzl.”
Rontski said that programs like the Purpose and Identity course should be carried out in cooperation with the IDF rabbinate and its department for Jewish awareness.
Yizhar Hess, the director of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel welcomed the news. “Dealing with Jewish identity in the IDF has to be done with great care and with an emphasis on the numerous faces of the Jewish world, whether religious or secular,” said Hess.
“Any educational program which emphasizes pluralism and the fact that there are ‘70 faces to the Torah’ is welcome.”