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Shabbat or Combat?

Chief Military Rabbi Avichai Ronsky Photo: Tzvika Tishler
Chief Military Rabbi Avichai Ronsky Photo: Tzvika Tishler
 
 

Chief IDF rabbi: Military rabbis inseparable from combat units

Rabbi Ronsky responds to criticism launched against him for desecrating Shabbat by accompanying combat unit to Gaza op on Saturday. 'The military rabbi must fortify the soldiers,' he says

Hanan Greenberg
Published: 05.21.08, 07:01 / Israel Jewish Scene

Chief Military Rabbi Brig.-Gen. Avichai Ronsky was accused of desecrating the Shabbat three weeks ago, when he decided to accompany a combat unit to an operation in the Gaza Strip. In response to the allegations, Ronsky launched an official letter of response, which was obtained by Ynet.

 

In the letter he states that "the military rabbi is an inseparable part of the combat unit, and just as the rabbi risks death in entering the battlefield together with the soldiers, it is a simple fact that if the unit leaves for an operation on a Saturday, the rabbi must leave with it."

  

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The rabbi's actions were criticized in many Orthodox circles both inside and outside of the IDF. It began with Ronsky's decision to accompany a combat unit into the Gaza Strip when the soldiers were called upon to execute a military operation during the Saturday prior to Passover Eve. 

 

The criticism cited the fact that a military rabbi holds no combative office, and therefore it was unnecessary for him to desecrate the Shabbat by going with the unit.

 

"The criticism derives from a basic misunderstanding of the rabbi's position within his unit," Ronsky said.

 

"The military rabbi is known to us from days of yore, when he was a priest… This rabbi, the priest, stood before the soldiers prior to their departure for battle and imbued them with the fighting spirit, and later even went with them to war."

 

In response to the criticism in the ultra-Orthodox press, he wrote: "The military rabbi's main task is to fortify the soldiers. This fortification is necessary for battle, for it is known that the charging of an enemy at the risk of one's life is not a natural human impulse, and certainly not for our young soldiers.

 

"A rabbi who is involved in his unit and accompanies them throughout their training and operations can assist the soldiers in overcoming the spiritual distress and crises they experience," he concluded.

 

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