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October 1, 2016 / 28 Elul, 5776
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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.

Rabbi Eliyahu Safran

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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