Israeli military enlisting frontline rabbis

Mon Jul 4, 2011 8:24am EDT
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By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - 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."

The rabbis' roles were expanded in Israel's Gaza war in late 2008 and early 2009, when military chaplains accompanied reserve battalions that invaded the enclave, in a conflict launched with the declared aim of halting militant rocket attacks.

The chaplains distributed Jewish prayer shawls, conducted services before troops went into battle and "offered words of comfort" to the soldiers, the article said.   Continued...

<p>An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man stands in front of the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City September 14, 2009, as he takes part in a "global day of prayer" called by Orthodox rabbis in response to what they described as mounting threats to Israel.REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis</p>