Rabbi Goren, whose yahrzeit will be commemorated this week, served as an example of a rabbi who imposed authority and demonstrated forcefulness * Rabbi Goren made clear that in the event of a conflict between an officer’s command and halakha, if ‘pikuach nefesh’ is not involved, the order should be refused * The present IDF rabbis are doing holy work, but are subject to the secular, General Staff * The IDF Rabbinate can continue in this path, but lacking independence, it must clarify that it does not have the authority of mara d’atra * Rabbis should be involved in the appointment process of the Chief IDF Rabbi * In order to strengthen the IDF Rabbinate, we must recognize that its status has eroded, and take action to correct the situation
In continuation of my article two weeks ago about the IDF Rabbinate in which I wrote that in spite of all of its importance it lacks the authority of mara d’atra (the local rabbinic authority), and ahead of the yahrzeit of the Gaon, Rabbi Shlomo Goren ztz”l next week on the 24th of MarCheshvan, I will relate a story illustrating the model of mara d’atra in the army.
A Story about Rabbi Goren and His Authority
A few years ago, Yaacov Bloch from Kibbutz Sha’alvim, the grandfather of one of our Yeshiva graduates, Asa’el Reichman, sent me a nice story about Rabbi Goren (from his book “Shofar Gadol Taka“):
Once, a division of Nachal soldiers from the religious kibbutz ‘Chafetz Chaim’ arrived at Tse’elim Army Base for advanced training. Moshe Shinkolbski went to check the kitchen and found that the cooks were mixing meat and milk and had absolutely no desire to keep the kitchen kosher. On the contrary, the Sergeant in charge of the kitchen ordered him to be removed from the premises. Moshe Sachs, the secretary of the division, went to talk to the commanding officer of the base, a second lieutenant (in Hebrew, Segen Mishne) who happened to be a member of the anti-religious Hashomer Hatzair movement, but he laughed at him and was not willing to a raise a finger in order to kosher the kitchen.
The soldiers decided go without eating cooked food from the kitchen, but instead, get-by on army rations which they managed to obtain only following an unpleasant argument. On Friday morning, however, the rations ran out, and they were left without any food for Shabbat; they couldn’t eat the food from the kitchen because in addition to the mixture of meat and milk, it was obvious that food was also cooked on Shabbat. In their distress, they called the military rabbinate on Friday morning. The phone-call was transferred directly to Rabbi Goren, who notified them that he would arrive at the army base promptly, on the very same day, and asked that they notify the second lieutenant of the base of his expected arrival at noon. They passed the news on to the officer, but he laughed, saying: “Good for him, let him come!”
Shortly before noon, the IDF Chief Rabbi’s car pulled-up to the base. After a brief argument between the driver and the guard at the gate, the car stopped in front of the Officers Headquarters. General Rabbi Goren entered the headquarters with a frown on his face, and demanded that the officer report to him immediately. After a few minutes, the officer arrived with a smirk on his face. Rabbi Goren instantly ordered him: “Attention! Leave immediately, and come back the way a soldier is meant to appear before a General!” The smile disappeared from the officer’s face, he left the room in a panic, and stood at the doorway at attention. Rabbi Goren ordered him: “Left, right, left! Attention! Listen to me carefully, ‘segen mishuneh c’mocha’ (literally, ‘you strange lieutenant’, a play on words of the Hebrew word mishneh, meaning ‘second’, and ‘mishuneh‘, meaning ‘strange’). You do not know to honor a General. Today, I’m going to teach you how a General who announces his arrival to an army base is meant to be greeted! You have fifteen minutes to prepare an honor guard at the gate of the base. I command that when I enter the base, I am escorted by an honor guard, until I reach the Officer’s Headquarters. At the headquarters will be waiting for me the division of soldiers from ‘Chafetz Chaim’, prepared for line-up. In the meantime, I am going check the kitchen. I brought along with me an officer from the Rabbinate, and he will give you all the instructions about koshering the kitchen. Do you have any questions, segen mishuneh?!” The officer, of course, had no questions, and ran to prepare the honor guard at the gate of the base, and the division of soldiers from ‘Chafetz Chaim’ for line-up in front of the headquarters.
Fifteen minutes later, Rabbi Goren returned and re-entered the gates of the army base with an honor guard. When he arrived at the Officer’s Headquarters, he stood in front of the Nachal soldiers and said to them: “Shalom, soldiers! I came here to arrange the kashrut matters that have been utterly neglected. This is a serious offense in contradiction of General Staff regulations, and those responsible will be brought to account for it. I would like to point out that the ‘segen mishuneh‘ who fills the role of commanding officer here, learned today how to greet a General, and I hope he’ll remember it. Shabbat Shalom.” Rabbi Goren returned to his car, and drove off. From that time onwards, the kitchen remained kosher l’mehadrin (highest level of kosher supervision), and for a long time, all the soldiers of the base remembered his impressive arrival.
Appreciation for the Current Chief IDF Rabbis
As a post script to the story, the significant improvements in the field of kashrut and other religious matters that have taken place in the army since then, deserves praise. Those religious soldiers who stood bravely and were not ashamed to observe halakha in front of their commanders, also deserve admiration. Thanks to them, and thanks to the actions of Rabbi Goren and his successors – the generations of IDF Chief Rabbis until present, the kashrut situation and the ability to keep mitzvot in the army has vastly improved.
Along with the assertion that today’s IDF Rabbinate does not have the authority of mara d’atra, I must point out that I had the personal opportunity of becoming acquainted with the outgoing Chief IDF Rabbi, Rabbi Rafi Peretz shlita, and the incoming Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Eyal Krim, shlita. Both of them are distinguished rabbis with noble qualities, who have numerous merits in their work within the IDF Rabbinate. It may very well be that they lack the power to change the complicated and difficult situation the IDF has encountered in the field of Judaism, but what I have written is not intended to be critical of them, rather, to strengthen their standing, and remedy the situation.
The Conduct of the Mara d’Atra
In any case, the story of Rabbi Goren ztz”l teaches how a mara d’atra is meant to conduct himself. Not every mara d’atra is required to behave exactly as Rabbi Goren did, for indeed, he was particularly aggressive in nature. However, the result should be similar: the instructions of a mara d’atra in the army should be filled immediately, fully, and unchallenged; and it should be known by all that the IDF Chief Rabbi has the capability and authority to punish, and even to demonstrate this publically. For the army is a system based on commands, authority and power, and as expected, often there are cases of violation of discipline; if the army wants orders to be enforced, sometimes punishment is necessary. This is how Rabbi Goren ztz”l conducted himself – he discharged from the army several officers, including a Battalion Commander, due to the violation of orders of the IDF Rabbinate.
Conflict between Halakha and an Order
Accordingly, Rabbi Goren was wont to teach that in a case of a conflict between halakha and a military order, as long as it is not in battle or in a situation of fear of pikuach nefesh (a life-threatening situation), the order should be refused, and the halakha upheld. Rabbi Goren clashed with the Chief of Staff Haim Laskov over this issue, until the then Prime Minister and Defense Minister, David Ben-Gurion, decided in his favor and rebuked the Chief of Staff.
As president of the Yeshiva Har Bracha, we were fortunate to have Rabbi Goren prepare the first two classes of students ahead of their induction into the army with a series of lessons. We became aware just how fundamental this position was for him. The first lesson he dedicated to the mitzvah of serving in the army, and the second was dedicated to the duty to refuse orders when it contradicts halakha.
An Example of the Seriousness of the Problem
The most prominent example of deterioration in the status of the IDF Rabbinate was in relation to the commander of ‘Bahad Echad’ (Training Base 1) Eran Niv, and Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Uzi Kliger. They acted in contradiction to halakha and against orders of ‘Ha’Shiluv Ha’Raui’
(Appropriate Integration), requiring cadets to hear female singers at an unofficial ceremony, and when some cadets did not listen to them, they sentenced them harshly, expelling them from the officers’ course. Even if in their mistaken opinion it was correct to sentence the cadets who refused orders, because their order wasn’t a blatantly illegal order requiring refusal – in any case, seeing as the commanders gave an order contrary to the orders of ‘Ha’Shiluv Ha’Raui’, and in view of the fact that the issue became public, they should have been brought to trial and their advancement hindered. Instead, they became the cultural heroes of secular society by way of their successful imposition of secular values on religious cadets, and their advancement was not halted.
The Order of ‘Ha’Shiluv Ha’Raui’
The topic of modesty is currently the most problematic concern in the army. The Torah has already specifically warned about the sanctity of the military camp (Deuteronomy 23: 10 15) in order that that the Divine Presence can dwell in the camp of Israel (Rashi), and because in the army, people tend to discard rules of modesty (Ramban).
There were enormous struggles concerning the orders of ‘Ha’Shiluv Ha’Raui’. If the Chief IDF Rabbi is the mara d’atra, he should determine what is appropriate according to the rules of morality and halakha. And even if the General Staff does not take his opinions into account, it he could still be considered the mara d’atra for stating the halakhic truth fearlessly, because by doing so, religious soldiers would be able to stand on their principles even if they had to pay the price of sitting in prison, and presumably as a result, the issue would be remedied. In practice, however, the IDF Rabbinate did not act as the mara d’atra, but rather, within the framework of leeway granted by the General Staff, worked to achieve the maximum possible. One can understand such a position – it might be of great benefit, but only on condition that it is accompanied by a disclaimer that these agreements do not have the halachic validity of a mara d’atra.
A Mara D’Atra is Appointed by Rabbis
God willing, in the future I will expound on the importance of the mara d’atra, designed to express the unity of the Torah, and the foundation of his authority being dependent on the community’s acceptance of the mara d’atra as a posek (Jewish law arbiter) compliant with the traditional rules of halakha.
For now, I will merely point out that the proper way of selecting a mara d’atra in the IDF should be with full participation of representatives of the rabbis, and representatives of the religious community. This was the case when Rabbi Goren was appointed. In a gradual process, however, the General Staff has become the main factor, whose objectives and considerations are outside the framework of halakha. True, the Council of the Chief Rabbinate still has to approve the nomination, but in practice, it does not participate in the process of finding candidates and their election. All this is extremely detrimental to the standing of the IDF Chief Rabbis who, in effect, derive their authority from the secular General Staff, whose members of late have openly expressed disdain for the sacred values of Judaism – aside from abandoning soldiers, and vilifying them.
The Key to Remedying the Situation: Recognizing the Problem
Some argue that this position weakens the IDF Rabbinate, but the truth is the exact opposite. Only after the reality is evident can the situation be remedied. Saying that the IDF Rabbinate is the mara d’atra a thousand times will not help when the Chief of Staff ignores them, and forces secular values on religious soldiers, such as hearing female singers at ceremonies.
When the revolt of Avshalom broke out, King David could have announced that he was the king, would never leave the palace, and declare all of the people as rebels. The result would have been that Avshalom would have destroyed Jerusalem, and killed David and all his allies. Instead, David chose to recognize reality, exited his palace, removed his crown, rent his clothes, and departed in grief – barefoot, and crying. After doing so, he planned the way to regain his kingdom (Samuel II, Chapter 15). His readiness to acknowledge his lowly situation was the turning point that reversed the hearts of the people, and on account of it, was able to establish his kingdom for generations.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: