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Religious Jews take on leadership roles in Israeli combat units

Study finds a notably increased presence of religious Jewish officers n Israeli army over the past two decades.


September 15, 2010 | 10:42 am

The Israeli army has experienced a steep rise in the percentage of religious Jews becoming officers in military combat units, a new study has found.

The study, published by the Israeli military journal Ma’arachot, found that the percentage of religious Jewish infantry officers rose from 2.5 percent in 1990 to 31.4 percent in 2007.

“This is the result of both demographic changes, high birth rate in religious circles and education,” Dr. Mordechai Kedar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies told the Media Line. “Religious circles are educating their children to serve the state in the army and non-religious circles are rather reluctant. This then leads to more religious soldiers.”

Many Israelis feel that the growing presence of religious soldiers creates more unity within the army, while those opposed fear that religious soldiers will remain more loyal to their Rabbi than their military commanders.

“It is a very positive phenomenon,” Mr.Uzi Dayan, former head of the National Security Council told The Media Line. “Now there is a better representation of Israeli society.”

But Uri Avnery, an Israeli writer and the founder of the far-left peace group Gush Shalom, argued that the demographic change in the religiosity of the Israeli army represents an internal threat. 

“I am very worried about it,” he told The Media Line. “The army is completely different than it was 60 years ago on the day it was founded.”

“The rabbis tell them that killing a goy is not a sin and that it is not allowed to give medical attention to a goy,” he said, in reference to the Yiddish term for non-Jews. “On the Shabbat interacting with a goy is not allowed.” 

Rabbi Hank Skirball, chairperson of Hiddush, which advocates religious freedom and equality in Israel, said that the increased presence of religious soldiers marks a healthy trend, but worried that the religious soldiers will indeed pay more respect to their rabbi’s wishes than to their commanding officers.

“The only danger is that some of the rabbis of the more extreme movement have been telling soldiers not to obey orders to evacuate Jewish settlers from Judea and Samaria,” he told The Media Line, in reference to territories captured by Israel in the 1967 War which Palestinian want for a potential future state. “We have to keep our eyes open so that these soldiers are taking there orders from [military] superiors.”

Dayan, a former chief of staff in the Israeli army, said religious soldiers are expected to follow orders like anyone else.

“The Israeli army carries out the decision of the elected government and we are operating only within the rule of law,” he said. “This is the source of the authority in the Army… We try to balance Jewish tradition, the Israeli army tradition and the tradition of the young democracy.”

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