In 1975, when I was a cadet in IDF Training Base 1, we did not have enough soldiers for a minyan during the week. Only on Saturdays would we see about 15 soldiers gathering for the Shabbat prayer, because there were no training sessions that day. The large synagogue stood deserted most of the time, even when the base was filled with cadets, mostly because only few religious soldiers were sent to officer's course. Back then, it was the kibbutzniks who were prominent among the population of future officers, as well as residents of the large cities.
Three years ago, when my son went through officer's course, he said it was impossible to hold orderly prayer sessions at the synagogue (the same building it was back then) because it's too small to fit all the religious cadets. The religious presence was also manifested in the number of female cadets, whose skirts were ubiquitous.
Naturally, religious officers make it to instruction roles these days, at Training Base 1 as well, and, lo and behold, they do not wish to swim in a pool where women swim! They do not wish to see ladies in bikinis! They maintain modesty standards! They're asking for separate swimming times!
The media also tell us about religious soldiers who leave ceremonies as not to hear females sing. As if these media outlets are crying out: "How could it be that soldiers, and religious ones at that, do not think like us, the enlightened, open, and liberal people?" Yet the soldiers did not disrupt the ceremonies, did not yell out in protest of female singing, and did not demonstrate against it. They simply got up and left, quietly, as not to interfere with the enjoyment of those who did stay.
We also heard scathing criticism over the educational role assumed by the IDF Rabbinate under the leadership of Rabbi Ronsky. To me it appears that this criticism stems from the unwillingness to admit that the Educational Corps fail to fulfill their role, because the messages they convey to the soldiers cannot be any better than the general message imparted by the general education system.
Get over itThe anxiety over the prospect of rabbis replacing education officers stems from the primal fear gnawing at some secular camps in the face of Judaism and its role within Israeli society and the State. There are those who watch with dismay as the number of people similar to them keeps on declining, while the social periphery – the religious, Jews of Mideastern descent, and Russian immigrants – keeps growing as result of demographic and cultural reasons.
When it comes to meaningful military service, volunteering to combat units and heading to officer's courses, the number of those who tended to do it thus far has declined considerably. Meanwhile, in religious-Zionist families the number of children is significantly larger than in secular families, while national-religious education stresses contribution and sacrifice for the sake of the State – which manifests in the number of religious officers. A religious soldier serving in a non-combat unit feels uncomfortable among his friends.
There is a clear connection between the offensive directed at the IDF Rabbinate, which contributed to boosting the moral of IDF soldiers, and the baseless stories extensively covered by the media regarding IDF actions in Gaza. These reports turned out to be no more than hearsay.
The assault on what is described as religious radicalization among IDF troops is no more than a manifestation of the sense of cultural vacuum imparted to a whole generation of young people by the secular education system. I do not argue that the religious community is faultless, yet for the most part it shuns drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, and the club culture. Yet where is secular culture leading its youth – tomorrow's adult generation - at this time?
Get over it. The problem is not the IDF Rabbinate, but rather, those who use it and its success as a means to slam the moral and dedicated national-religious community, which constitutes a mirror for those who are not like it. A nation of fatigued souls lacking national awareness and willingness to sacrifice will not be able to survive in the distressful and radical region we inhabit.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University’s department of Arabic