(An Israeli army rabbi (L) recites prayers as he leads the funeral procession for a soldier killed in southern Lebanon, 1 Feb 2000/Jim Hollander. )

The Israeli military is embroiled in a public battle over whether God ought to be mentioned at memorial rites for fallen soldiers. The ferocity of the debate, going to the heart of Israel’s secular and religious Jewish divide, prompted the intervention on Monday of a parliamentary panel that urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fractious cabinet to decide the issue.

The controversy is over whether Yizkor, the Hebrew prayer of remembrance, should begin at military ceremonies with the words “May God remember” or “May the people of Israel remember”. Military policy calls for the version mentioning God to be used, but enforcement has been patchy in an apparent nod to the sentiments of the Jewish state’s secular majority.

Media reports that Israel’s new armed forces chief, Lieutenant-General Benny Ganz, had sided with chaplains who insisted on using the “May God remember” phrase have drawn complaints the military is becoming too Orthodox.

“The people’s army is little by little becoming an army of God,” left-wing legislator Ilan Gilon said.