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September 28, 2016 / 25 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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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.

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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