An IDF commander will no longer be able to prosecute a soldier who has been exempted from shaving his facial hair for religious reasons.
Following the imprisonment of a soldier-student who refused to shave his beard on grounds of religion, as first reported by Ynet, the army has announced that it will change its procedures on the matter.
Currently, every officer from the rank of lieutenant colonel and up is authorized to reject a soldier's shaving exemption and put him on trial without checking whether his beard is justified.
For now on, the commander will be permitted to reexamine the special permit and check whether the reason for it is still relevant, but will not be able to force the soldier to shave or punish him before a decision is made.
The affair began when Yaakov Biblau, who serves as a computer and electronics engineer in the Israel Air Force, arrived at a new IAF base and was ordered to shave by his commander.
The soldier, who lives in the settlement of Kfar Tapuach, explained that he comes from a family of Chabad Hasidim and has had a permit to grow a beard since he began his military service, at the recommendation of a military rabbi. The officer, however, insisted on revoking the shaving exemption and reconsidering it, and in the meantime decided to prosecute the soldier for refusing to obey an order.
Biblau argued that it was unreasonable to force to remove his beard before the clarification, as he is not allowed to shave his facial hair according to his religious custom. In light of the commander's insistence, he turned to the Military Rabbinate's hotline, where he was told that he has every right not to shave. Nonetheless, he was put on trial and sentenced to 10 days in prison.
Knesset Member Moti Yogev of the Bayit Yehudi party approached Chief Military Rabbi Brigadier-General Rafi Peretz on the matter. He noted that the same IAF officer regularly harassed religious soldiers holding a permit to grow a beard, and that this was not the first case in which he sent a soldier to prison for this "offense."
Yogev expressed his hope the chief military rabbi and Air Force commander would update all commanders on the change in procedures and that such an incident would not repeat itself. He added the commander involved in the incident should be rebuked for his "unwise conduct."
The IDF Spokesperson's Unit said in response that "the Air Force procedures have been changed following the incident."