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September 22, 2014 / 27 Elul, 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

How one dresses matters. Judaism adheres to a code of tzniut (modesty). I have had many an occasion to consider the kinds of clothing that are often worn in our society, clothing that adheres to no standard of modesty at all and so demeans the care and consideration we are to show our physical bodies, which are temporary vessels for the spirit of God that dwells within us.

So when I recently read the words “These clothes proclaim, ‘Heresy,’” there were many contexts within which they could conceivably ring true for me as a Torah-observant Jew. However, when I learned the actual context of those words, I was astonished.

“If a Jew enters a study hall [synagogue or yeshiva] with such clothing, haredim should yell at him, ‘Tamei [unclean one], get out of here!’ These clothes defile…. To pray with those clothes is like praying while making the sign of the cross, may God save us. These clothes proclaim, ‘Heresy!’ ”

Still not enough context?

The full context is that a Jerusalem chassidic rabbi banned uniformed IDF soldiers from his group’s study halls, synagogues and yeshivas. According to news reports, after the IDF ended a policy that had exempted haredi soldiers from having to wear their uniforms when visiting their neighborhoods, Rabbi Moshe Zev Tzaurger banned all uniformed soldiers from haredi neighborhoods.

The IDF uniform heretical? This I must absolutely reject.

Much of Rabbi Tzaurger’s motivation is political – his proclamation was in response to the IDF’s above-mentioned policy change, which he claimed was made to “transmit the message that military service has become the norm” and therefore make it easier to draft haredim. He said the IDF’s strategy was working and he wanted to put an end to it.

Politics in Israel is a sharp-elbowed affair. It is not for the faint of heart. But to claim that wearing the uniform of the Jewish state is heresy? To turn a political disagreement into a religious war? To have extremist rabbis issuing halachic rulings about the so-called impurity of the IDF uniform?

This is not consistent with Judaism.

The sentiment expressed by Rabbi Tzaurger is not about clothes but about an angry radicalism and sentiment that runs counter to true Judaism. It is a sentiment that stems from and is carried forth by a mindset that seems to have willfully turned its back on the horror that occurred when we did not have the God-granted privilege, glory and strength of the IDF to protect and defend us.

Such a mindset must be confronted.

* * * * *

In the meantime, Rabbi Tzaurger’s words have been having an effect. There have been instances of rock throwing at haredi soldiers in the Meah Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem. In addition, haredim have lit trashcans on fire. One such incident occurred after a recent anti-draft demonstration staged by the Eda Haredit organization turned violent, with haredi protestors throwing rocks, glass bottles and other objects at the police in front of Jerusalem’s IDF recruiting office in Mekor Baruch.

We live in angry times. There is a general ratcheting up of rhetoric and hardening of positions in the United States and even more so in Israel. Still, the rancor and hatefulness that is displayed in the proclamations about the IDF uniform bring great hurt to the Jewish community and our Jewish state.

It is nothing new for Jews to disagree. But the degree of hatred and antipathy in the discourse between the haredi and non-haredi camps has not been heard in decades. Fellow Jews are called non-Jews, reshaim (evil) and apostates. Haredi soldiers are referred to as chardakim, related to the Hebrew word for germs, chaidakim. The wounds we are inflicting on ourselves are not easily healed.

Haredi soldiers who live in haredi neighborhoods are repeatedly insulted when they return to those neighborhoods. Principals of Talmudei Torah refuse to enroll boys whose fathers serve in the army. Despite the hardships, the haredim who serve do so proudly. But the level of tensions is rising ever higher now that legislation regarding haredi enlistment has been pushed forward.

* * * * *

To immerse oneself in a life of Torah and Torah study is a Jew’s supreme privilege and blessing. But our greatest sages, our ultimate models of living a righteous life, also knew what it meant to live in the world. Ignorance of the world does not make us more holy, only more limited in how we embrace God’s creation.

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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