Israeli military enlisting frontline rabbis, critic warns creating against “God’s army”

July 4, 2011

(A Jewish rabbi instructs an Israeli Border Policeman to recite prayers as he prays in the neighborhood of Gilo on the outskirts of Jerusalem October 23, 2000./Peter Andrews)

The Israeli military is mustering battlefield rabbis in what it calls a campaign to promote religious values in its frontline ranks. The move, announced in the latest issue of the military’s official weekly magazine, Bamahane, drew fire on Monday from one of Israel’s most popular newspaper columnists, who cautioned against creating a “God’s Army.”

Under the plan, a reserve army rabbi will be assigned to every battalion in the military’s northern command, whose areas of responsibility include the Lebanese and Syrian borders. “The assimilation of religion into combat battalions is increasing,” said an article in Bamahane, which gave details of the program being implemented after a year-long pilot project.

While rabbis have long served in Israel’s military, their roles traditionally have focused on overseeing adherence to Jewish dietary laws in its kitchens, Sabbath observance and religious ceremonies. Now, the Bamahane article said, “the commander of the Golani (infantry) brigade’s Battalion 51 does not move a meter without his rabbi.”

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