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July 23, 2014 / 25 Tammuz, 5774
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Holy Garments: Reflections on the IDF Uniform

A Jerusalem chassidic rabbi banned uniformed IDF soldiers from his group’s study halls, synagogues and yeshivas.
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Photo Credit: IDF

The majority of today’s haredim never learn, and so never appreciate, what the state of Israel is and what it represents in our post-Holocaust era. They never learn what the IDF uniform truly represents.

Among those who most cherish and appreciate Israel and the IDF uniform are individuals who were most directly affected by the Holocaust – survivors. People who experienced hell on earth, who prayed and dreamed that someone, somewhere, would care enough to save them from the unspeakable horrors of Nazi Europe. This remnant blesses and prays for every Jew who wears the IDF uniform. They solemnly commemorate Israel’s Yom HaZikaron, honoring the soldiers who died so that the Jewish nation might live.

But, sadly, there are those who have grown up without an understanding and appreciation of the 65-year-old state of Israel. Despite having benefited from the haven for Jews that Israel is, and having been nourished by its milk and honey, they have the audacity to not only take its defenders for granted but to characterize them as heretics! It cannot stand.

* * * * *

Soon after I graduated Yeshiva University, I spent the summer of 1969 in Israel with some friends. We naturally visited the resting places of the great tzaddikim, including the sanctified military cemeteries throughout the country. We paused to reflect on the graves of men – boys! – younger than ourselves who had sacrificed their all for our Jewish state and Am Yisrael.

If there is an explanation as to why they were called on to sacrifice so that Jews in Israel and throughout the world could now know safety, security, pride and strength while I was able to live in comfort in America, I did not know it then, and I still don’t know it now.

But one thing I do know: the explanation I have searched for cannot be found on the printed study sheet that was given to kita alef students of a renowned chassidic yeshiva one recent Yom Ha’Atzmaut that proclaimed the 5th of Iyar a “bitter” day.

Nothing is to be achieved from the negative messages about Israel so prevalent in the haredi world. It is time for a change in approach so that new generations learn about what Israel is, not what it is not. Then the madim (uniform) and kelei ha’mikdash (the sanctified vessels and tools used daily to rebuild our Promised Land and safeguard all its citizens) will be seen in a proper light.

Blessedly, the radical sentiments of many haredim have been – and continue to be – answered by the voice of true Torah scholars.

Rabbi Nachum Stepansky, in his magnificent Ve’Alehu lo Yibol, tells the story of a young man who came to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, the gadol hador, and asked for a couple of days away from learning to address some personal problems. He said that while he was away he would visit the kivrei tzaddikim, the graves of righteous men, in the Galil. Rav Auerbach looked at the student and replied, “For kivrei tzaddikim you don’t have to go to the Galil. You have them right here in Yerushalayim on Har Herzl.”

The noble regard in which Rav Auerbach held IDF soldiers was shared by the revered Mirrer rosh yeshiva Rav Yerucham Levovitz, who commented in his Sichos Mussar regarding those who were killed in Lod in Talmudic times: Harugei Lud ein kol briya yechola la’amod be’mechitzatan. “No mortal can be in their presence” because they sacrificed their life on behalf of Israel. Likewise, “regarding those who currently sacrifice their lives so we can be saved, no one in the entire world can stand in their presence [no one can measure up to their level]. And our obligation to pray on their behalf is limitless…”

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, head of Har Etzion hesder yeshiva, related that on a trip to America he was visiting with his father-in-law, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, and posed a series of questions he had received from students serving in the IDF. One student’s job was cleaning out and maintaining the tanks. Often his uniform got covered in oil and grime and he wanted to know if he needed to change before davening Minchah, something that would be terribly inconvenient and difficult.

About the Author: Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran is an educator, author and lecturer. He can be reached at e1948s@aol.com.


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15 Responses to “Holy Garments: Reflections on the IDF Uniform”

  1. Les Legato says:

    I am a kosher and shomer shabbat Jew. That rabbi is a moron and should be deported from Israel.

    LET HIM GO LIVE IN GAZA.

  2. Stan Brin says:

    Precisely. These extremists are like those who divided the Jews during the last days of the Temple. Secular and religious can discuss anything, but neither can sit with an extremist who insults the uniform. Let them live in the galut. In Jerusalem, that is not very far away.

  3. Reuven Prager says:

    Sir, the unmitigated gall and ignorance of this person you refer to as a chassidic rabbi is pathetic. When I was inducted into Zahal I redesigned all my army uniforms into four cornered garments and tied…tzitzith (fringes) and techelet (Biblical blue strands) onto the corners of my uniforms. I was duly charged with destroying army property. At my trial I defended my actions by stating that far from destroying my uniforms – I sanctified them, making a bracha (blessing) when I donned them in the mornings.
    The second mishna of tractate Brachot (Blessings) asks when the proper time arrives for saying the Shma (Hear Oh Israel) in the mornings. It states that the time begins when one can distinguish between techelet (Biblical blue) and lavan (white) [when it is light enough to distinguish between the contrast of light and dark colors], Rav Eliezer states: between techelet and kharti (khacki green) [about 8 minutes later when it is light enough to distinguish betweeen two dark colors]. The Gamara clarifies that what the mishnah is referring to is the techelet and lavan of the tzitzith. Beged Ivri teaches that also Rav Eliezer is referring to the tzitzith of an IDF soldier, and until one can distinguish between the techelet and lavan – AND – between the techelet and kharti of the tzitzith on one's madai tzahal (IDF uniform) one can not even begin to recite Shma Yisrael!

  4. Mark Perez says:

    you tell it like it is Reuven.

  5. Yacov Stanley says:

    While I respect and am thankful to our brothers and sisters who chose to be a part of this modern Army that fights for the state of israel, I can also recognize why someone would not want their children or their talmidim to join an army that does not support a Torah lifestyle. Sure there are individuals who manage in the IDF, but even in your beautiful story about raising the sparks of your uniform, the IDF is against that. I have no doubt in my mind that the decision to force Haredi soldiers to wear their uniforms when they are home is a propaganda tool like Rav suspects. "the IDF ended a policy that had exempted haredi soldiers from having to wear their uniforms when visiting their neighborhoods…. to “transmit the message that military service has become the norm” and therefore make it easier to draft haredim. " during the three weeks isn't it important to work on loving every Jew whether we agree with them or not? should that include Jews with "extreme" political ideas, and especially the ones that disagree with you?

  6. Eva Feld says:

    Absolutely absurd! And who was the Mashgiach on the uniforms (if they were any, rather doubtful) of the conquest of Israel. And who supervised the uniforms (and they were none so to speak of) of the PALMACH, HAGANAH, IRGUN, LEHI, etc. We really need this divisiveness in the 21st century. These Rabbis only know how to create this meshugas all repairable of course with a goodly amount of……… I better not finish the sentence.

  7. Reuven Prager says:

    Yacov, I don't know if you ever served in Zahal, but Zahal is the holiest and most serious Torah institution in Israel today. When prior to my mishpat I met with the Rav HaRashi of Zahal, a general, on a Friday morning, to get permission for my changes to my uniforms, during the 10 minutes I stood in his office awaiting his attention he was speaking on two intercoms and three phones, issuing orders to army doctors and officers as to which operations could be performed prior to the beginning of Shabbat and which missions could begin before or had to wait till after Shabbat. It was mamash Torah L'Ma'ase with life and death consequences. Absolute Torah.

  8. Reuven, your passion is wonderful! Shabbot Shalom .

  9. Charlie Hall says:

    Reuven, you should write something about this for the Jewish Press. People need to know!

  10. Reuven Prager says:

    Would be happy to. I have many incredible stories.

  11. Ch Hoffman says:

    And yet, the OU refuses to disassociate itself with extremists, and accepts them as its kashrut representatives.
    if the OU really cared, it would cut off funding to these groups too.

  12. Yoel Schaper says:

    Hillel, I never asked, did you go to the IDF? I assume you did…

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