The Battle for the Heart and Soul of the IDF

There is a fierce battle being waged behind the scenes for the heart and soul of the Israeli army

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The IDF has been at the center of passionate public debate since last year’s speech by Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan, at the time the army’s deputy chief of staff, on the occasion of Holocaust Memorial Day. 

His remarks on Israeli society kicked up a firestorm that refuses to subside. According to Golan, Israel today reminds him of the “horrific processes which developed in Europe – particularly in Germany – 70, 80, and 90 years ago, and finding remnants of that here among us in the year 2016.” 

The general’s harsh statement was perceived as left-wing ideology the type of which has been firmly entrenched within the IDF’s upper echelons, resulting in questionable moral codes that severely hinder the army’s very purpose to protect Israel.

Particularly annoyed by this is the religious community, which sees the liberal values of gender equality and LGBT rights as especially aggravating since those directly contradict Jewish religious laws. One of the harshest critics of the IDF is Rabbi Zvi Tau, head of Har Hamor Yeshiva. Among the national religious yeshivas, the prestigious Har Hamor is branded as “national-Orthodox,” a relative newcomer among the Zionist religious movements that are typically lenient.

R. Tau, who previously insisted that the IDF leadership had no mandate to alter Jewish culture, spoke recently with the heads of religious pre-military academies (mechinot) to discuss whether or not it was permitted for their graduates to serve in the Israeli army. 

The discourse, published by the religious portal Kipa, reveals the depth of the crisis between the religious community and the IDF.

To clarify, R. Tau is adamant that young religious Jews should not be give the option to refuse military service. “If for a moment we’ll be left without an army, we will have no country … on account of some who have fallen flat on their faces should we not do what is right?” he questioned. 

Tau’s remedy is to strengthen religious education so that the students would find the inner strength to resist the army’s insistence on doing what is wrong. “Is there any other place in the world where, as a matter of abiding principle, men and women are bedded in the same place … are these human norms?” he wondered. “This is how one loses sanity, the basic norms of God’s image in human beings.”

Tau, therefore, is calling on religious soldiers to pay the price for being forced into unlawful norms. “The people of Israel have stood firm for two millennia of exile,” he said, “and here is someone holding on to the new demon of post modernism, he will try to make us leave our religion? We are willing to take part in whatever is asked, but not in this madness, not in this beastly behavior.” 

This battle over the army’s spirit is far from over and shows at least one thing – that unlike in the past, attempts to fundamentally alter the army’s culture can no longer go unnoticed, nor can the army afford to ignore the challenges it faces from devout Jews.


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