Photo Credit: Yoav Lemmer via Wikimedia
Religious IDF soldier

Do you always remember what’s the week’s Torah portion? Many of us don’t, which is why some nice Jews invented a slew of apps to remind us about this and all other minute details of the Jewish calendar. Would you agree that not knowing what’s this week’s parsha disqualifies you as an Orthodox Jew? How about getting court martialed over it? Turns out this nightmare version of traditional Judaism is alive and well in the IDF, according to Channel 2 News’ Yair Cherki.

A soldier in the Golani Brigade who’s been growing his beard for a year before enlisting, and prays three times a day, was refused a beard exemption for religious reasons and faced disciplinary proceedings when his unit’s rabbi quizzed him about the weekly Torah portion and told him he was “not religious enough” for a beard exemption.

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“I do not know the soldier, but this story raises a fundamental question: who determines who is considered religious? And how?” Cherki tweeted on Monday.

Rabbi Yitzhak Weiss, the unit’s spiritual leader, sent a letter Colonel Sivan Bloch, commander of the Golani Brigade, informing him that the soldier’s request to grow a beard had been rejected. The letter explained that the soldier did not meet the criteria required for “a religious soldier entitled to grow a beard.”

The soldier defines himself as an observant man, with all that it entails, but his request was rejected, only because he did not recall the weekly Torah portion.

Later, when the same soldier was ordered to shave his beard, he refused and was disciplined. The Kipa website reported that since the beginning of the week, while the soldier’s friends were in training, he has been cleaning the base latrines.

Attorney Yael TotHani, who represents the soldier on behalf of the Tzav Echad group to which he had applied for help, questioned the Army Criminal Investigation Command under what criteria the level of a soldier’s religiosity is examined.

“We view seriously the trend led by the chief of staff, according to which a soldier who wishes to grow a beard for religious reasons must face a ridiculous test,” attorney TotHani said, adding that “the military rabbinate, without any clear criteria, decided to follow the instructions of the chief of staff in an absurd fashion, with each military rabbi choosing to ask a soldier questions about this and other aspects of Jewish law, to determine whether that soldier is ‘religious enough to grow a beard’ or not.”

“In our case, this was an illegal conduct,” she stated. “It is inconceivable that a ridiculous test of questions about the weekly Torah portion or, Mincha prayer on Shabbat, should determine whether someone is religious or not religious.”

The soldier’s attorney noted that after he demanded to be tried in a military court, he was ostracized and expelled from the training, and now his job is to wash toilets at the base.”

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