Jewish Orthodoxy spreads in the Israeli military
Roni Daniel saw the writing on the wall in a toilet.
A former infantry commander who fought in three Middle East wars and now the dean of Israeli defense correspondents, Daniel recently visited military headquarters in Tel Aviv. There, a urinal that uses a motion detector to clean itself was signposted: “Forbidden on the Sabbath.” Troops, he realized, were being ordered to defer to Orthodox Jewish curbs on the use of electricity between Friday night and Saturday night.
For Daniel, and for millions of other Israeli citizens, the sign is symbolic of creeping change in an institution long cherished as a bastion of national unity. An increasing number of conscripts are Orthodox Jews – mirroring the growth of the minority in Israeli society at large. Some religious troops view military service through the prism of their own piety – either as the realization of a messianic vision that sees Jews conquering biblical lands or as an institution that should be subordinated to rabbinical writ.
For secular Israelis, already worried about the role of religion in the Jewish state, that threatens not just the military but the country itself.
“In my time, the skullcap-wearers came to the military and served alongside me. They lived their lives as they pleased, we respected them, and they also respected our lifestyle,” said Daniel, who is 64 and secular. “Today’s generation, to a degree, joins up with the object of imposing its lifestyle on others – to dictate how to behave. It’s a crawling annexation.”
Israel Defense Forces top brass say religion is not threatening the chain of command. “No rabbi will run any of my units,” chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, told Israel’s top-rated Channel Two news last month.