IDF soldiers were killed during the Second Lebanon War because they did not observe mitzvot (commandments), Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said in his weekly Saturday-night sermon, Yedioth Ahronoth reported.
In his sermon, delivered just two weeks after Israel marked the war’s first anniversary, Shas’ spiritual leader said, “It is no wonder that soldiers are killed in war; they don’t observe Shabbat, don’t observe the Torah, don’t pray every day, don’t lay phylacteries on a daily basis – so is it any wonder that they are killed? No, it’s not.
“God have mercy on them (soldiers) and make them become newly religious – then they will all live a good life in peace,” Rabbi Ovadia said.
During his sermon, the rabbi mentioned last week’s Torah portion, “Shoftim”, which states: “What man is there that is fearful and faint-hearted? Let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren's heart melt as his heart" (Deuteronomy 20: 5-8) – meaning, fearful soldiers should return to their homes during times of war or danger.
According to Rabbi Yosef, today such soldiers would be “placed in a military prison by their commanding officers”.
'Rabbi hurt those closest to him'
The rabbi continued to say that “when soldiers believe and pray, God helps them during the war. (These soldiers) don’t get killed.”
Responding to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s comments, Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin said, “Instead of spewing drivel and hurting the bereaved families, the rabbi should call on yeshiva students to enlist in the army.”
Eli Ben-Shem, whose son Kobi was killed in 1997 during a collision between two Israel Air Force helicopters over Moshav Sa'ar Yishiv in the North, said, "Comments such as those made by the rabbi are disgraceful. He (Ovadia) is a great rabbi, the leader of hundreds of thousands of people, and it is a shame that he has hurt those closest to him in such a way.
"There are thousands of traditional soldiers and hundreds of traditional bereaved families in the country – these words hurt them deeply," he told Ynet.
Shas, for its part, issued a statement saying, “The rabbi was quoting a passage of Gemara in an attempt to encourage all of Israel to repent and to pray for the safety and safe return of IDF soldiers.”
Speaking to Ynet, Shas head Eli Yishai said Rabbi Ovadia ended his sermon with a prayer for Israel's soldiers, adding that during last summer's war the rabbi organized a mass prayer session for the troops at the Western Wall.
Amnon Meranda contributed to this report