Chief Military Rabbi, Brigadier General Rabbi Rafi Peretz, visited Thursday the Siach Yitzhak yeshiva in Givat Ha’Dagan, Efrat, Gush Etzion.
He spoke as part of a seminar at the yeshiva, discussing halachic considerations in deciding military issues.
Speaking implicitly on the issue of enlisting yeshiva students—for the first time since the Supreme Court had overturned the Tal Law that sought to mitigate the process of mainstreaming Haredi youths through staggered conscription—the Chief Rabbi said that they (the students) simply cannot say the IDF “doesn’t suit me,” or “I belong elsewhere.”
He said the draft is the life saver of the nation “both in the sense of keeping us safe, and the sense of walking along together, and I have evidence for it in Jewish law.”
Nevertheless, Rabbi Peretz said he was not calling for “mass enlistment of yeshiva students tomorrow morning,” and he recognized that Torah study also contributes to the IDF.
The Chief Military Rabbi also addressed the debate over compulsory military events that feature women’s singing, and whether or not religious soldiers who feel that listening to it jeopardizes them morally should be allowed to abstain from attending.
Rabbi Peretz admitted that his own liberal ruling which allows the participation of religious soldiers in military ceremonies with women singers was not ideal: “To be able to live a good life before the fact (milechatchila), we sometimes are pushed into making hasty decisions after the fact (b’de’aved),” he explained. “But do not cross red lines.”
But he stated flatly that a religious soldier did not have to sit in a show with female singers.
He suggested that most conflicts between military directives and Jewish law are born by a lack of sensitivity on the part of both sides to each other’s values. According to him, care, understanding and inclusion of others would have prevented most of the collisions.
The Jewish Press asked Rabbi Peretz, “Twenty years ago, a Yeshiva student in the IDF could choose not to sit at an event with female singers and it wasn’t a problem, but now, twenty years later, it’s become a flash point. Doesn’t all the uproar seem manufactured to you?”
Rabbi Peretz smiled and enigmatically replied, “There’s a reason.”
But he insisted that building unity between religious and not religious is a process. to illustrate, he told the following story:
When his son was in training in an elite combat unit, he didn’t made it home in time for Shabbat for eight straight weeks, but the young man never complained. Rabbi Peretz eventually asked his son’s commander why he wasn’t letting his soldiers out in time for Shabbat—the five religious boys of the unit kept getting stuck and having to spend Shabbat wherever they were when the sun had set on Fridays.
The secular commander was shocked, according to Rabbi Peretz, and stated sadly that he wasn’t worthy of being those boys’ commander if he didn’t know he had been causing them such pain.
He admitted that in his mind he was certain that with the holy work the boys were doing in the Army, God would forgive them for being an hour late.
Rabbi Pretz hugged that commander, and told him he wished that all the secular soldiers were like him.
(Stephen Leavitt contributed to this article)