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August 1, 2014 / 5 Av, 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 Rav looked at Rav Lichtenstein and wondered out loud, “Why would he need to change? He is wearing bigdei kodesh” – holy garments.

These sacred garments have restored Jewish pride, faith and fortitude. These bigdei kodesh safeguard and secure all that is holy and worthwhile in God’s Promised Land and throughout the world.

No lesser voice than Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook shared the regard and reverence for Israel’s soldiers and the uniform they wear. In Sichot Rabbeinu (Yom Ha’Atzmaut 5727) he wrote:

A student of our yeshiva approached me. I said to him: “At first I did not recognize you.” He was wearing the army uniform. You know that I relate to this uniform in holiness. A lovely and precious man, full of God-fearing and holiness, was approaching, and he was wearing an army uniform. At that occurrence I mentioned what I said at one wedding [of HaRav She’ar Yashuv Cohen, chief rabbi of Haifa] when the groom came dressed in an army uniform. There were some who were pointing out that it is inappropriate for a groom to stand under the chuppah with an army uniform. In Yerushalayim, the Holy City, it was customary that they came with Shabbat clothing, holy clothing, like a shtreimel.

I will tell you the truth. The holiness of the shtreimel – I do not know if it is one-hundred percent clear. It was made holy after the fact. Many righteous and holy gaonim certainly wore it. There is certainly so much trembling of holiness before them, and we are dirt under the souls of their feet, and on account of this fact, the shtreimel was made holy. Also Yiddish, the language of Exile, was made holy because of its great use in words of holiness. But from the outset it [was] not so certain. In comparison, the holiness of the army uniform in Israel is fundamental, inherent holiness. This is the holiness of accessories of a mitzvah, from every perspective…

Rabbi Yehoshua Zuckerman relates (in Iturei Yerushalaim) that Rav Kook was “teaching a class and a student who was on leave from the army was standing next to him. During the entire time, our rabbi rested his hand on the student’s arm. At the end of the shiur, another student asked about this. Our rabbi explained, “It is simple. He was wearing a Tzahal uniform and I was touching holiness the entire time.”

* * * * *

Thankfully, there are those in the haredi community who are willing to speak out against the angry and misguided radicalism that would diminish the glory of the IDF. Writing on Behadrey Haredim, Rabbi David Bloch, founder of Nahal Haredi, expressed his resentment at Rabbi Tzaurger’s words. “We have been told by our ancestors: ‘Anyone who opposes the good in his friend may end up opposing the good of Hashem’; anyone who is not grateful toward the soldier for his defense of the Jews in Israel so he can live here in relative peace is ungrateful.”

Rabbi Bloch continued: “There is no connection between the Zionist ideology and gratitude to those who physically make it possible with God’s help so that each resident can live here, and manage his life as he sees fit…. One can be anti-Zionist and still be grateful to those who [save] lives….”

The most basic Jewish value is that of expressing hakarat hatov to anyone who does anything that is of benefit to me and certainly to society at large.

Every form of Orthodoxy has radical elements. To be radical in one’s love of Torah and God is not a sin. However, when one’s embrace of Torah is expressed as hatefulness toward IDF soldiers and a damning of the bigdei kodesh they wear, it is a radicalism that has lost sight of true Torah.

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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