Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, dean of the Ateret Yerushalayim yeshiva in Jerusalem and the rabbi of the town of Bet El in Benjamin region, condemned on Sunday the decision by the IDF HR to force National Religious officers to shave their beards. The case involves a career officer who would normally receive permission to grow his beard from his base rabbi, but now, when he applied, was told to request a written confirmation from the personnel administration officer in his command. The officer submitted all the necessary documents to the proper IDF authority and was refused and ordered to shave immediately.
The incident follows new rules adopted by the IDF which require submitting requests for growing beards to HR, rather than the military rabbinate. The website Behadrei Haredim reported that out of 36 recent requests for a beard permit only two were approved, both Haredim. The organization of Hesder Yeshivas, who are for the most part National Religious (Modern Orthodox) has received hundreds of complaints from soldiers who submitted those requests properly and have simply not been answered, which means that come March 1 they’ll have to shave.
One battalion commander reportedly ordered the entire battalion, including two religious companies, to shave their beards. One religious soldier told the Hesder group that his commander revealed he had received an order from the Chief of Staff’s office to trim the number of permits issued bearded soldiers.
Some soldiers have already announced they would rather go to jail than shave their beards.
Rabbi Aviner told the website Srugim he was reminded of a famous photograph showing German soldiers forcing a Jew to shave off his fellow Jew as everyone around is having great fun. He related the story of a Rabbi who was told by the Gestapo that he could redeem his beard for 100 lashes, and agreed, but collapsed by the 25th lash.
Rabbi Aviner said that “dark days have come to the IDF,” and blamed the order on the head of HR in the Army, who removed the right of the military rabbi on base to issue beard permits. This order complemented another decision to take away many of the military rabbinate’s activities and pass them to the IDF education department.