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Pluralism in the Israel Defense Forces

Pluralism in the Israel Defense Forces

The Israeli Defense Forces is one of the primary places in Israeli society where men and women from a plethora of backgrounds come together and partake in a cultural exchange. The Education Corps is one of the largest units in the IDF, and historically it has played a crucial role in the training of Israel’s citizen soldiers. They help take a diverse population and level the field so that the most capable soldiers have a chance to excel. As a part of this education, the Military Rabbinate teaches about Jewish identity and values. However, they only teach one interpretation of Judaism: Orthodox.

In the Israeli Defense Forces, a power struggle is continuing over teaching Jewish identity and Jewish values to soldiers and officers. We have been asking for a clarification of the responsibilities of the Education Corps and the Military Rabbinate for over a year. We want to know: Who exactly is teaching what to our soldiers? A separation between education for “Jewish identity” and “Jewish awareness” has been approved by Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and allows for the Military Rabbinate to be in charge of education regarding Jewish roots and tradition. While this may seem like a positive compromise, distinguishing between identity and awareness only perpetuates the discrepancy and blurs lines between the state and the Rabbinate.

In the IDF, the only type of Judaism taught to soldiers wishing to explore their identity is Orthodoxy. Trips around the country focus on Orthodox religious sites like Tzfat, and only Orthodox Rabbis are brought in as guest lecturers to run workshops about religious values.

Amidst these uncertain definitions, the Israel Religious Action Center has called upon the Knesset to investigate the singular nature of identity formation in the army, and asked that a non-Orthodox Rabbi will be able to sit on the Military Rabbinate. In response to our requests, a minimal number of non-Orthodox Jews have been brought in to speak about Jewish identity. The numbers are small and therefore the impact remains minimal, but we're committed to keeping the pressure on the defense establishment until Jewish education in the IDF reflects the diversity of the IDF.

Anat Hoffman is the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Jewish Movement in Israel. She is also the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, a group of Jewish women and men from around the world who strive to achieve the right of women to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Anat Hoffman
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