Cohen, Stuart, Aaron Kampinsky, and Elisheva Rosman-Stollman. “Swimming against the Tide: The Changing Functions and Status of Chaplains in the Israel Defense Force.” Religion, State and Society (early view; online first).
This article describes and analyses the changes that have occurred in the services performed by chaplains in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) – the only military in the world that consists almost entirely of Jews. Essentially, we argue, the shift has been one of focus. For many years, IDF chaplains primarily (albeit never exclusively) concerned themselves with providing religious services to the minority of personnel who observed Orthodox Jewish rituals. ‘Outreach’ programmes, targeted at the secular Jewish majority, were secondary. Recently, however, the IDF rabbinate has undergone a process of ‘role expansion’, emphasising the provision of counselling and guidance to the entire Jewish complement, especially in combat units. In the second part of the article, we analyse the possible reasons for that development: demographic and cultural trends in Israeli society; the prominence of counter-insurgency missions in the IDF’s operational agenda; and the personalities of recent chief chaplains. Finally, we address the possible implications of this shift, asking whether the intra-organisational frictions that it generates, especially with the Education Corps, portends a battle for the soul of the IDF.
Military establishments view religious soldiers with mixed feelings. On the one hand, they can be seen as a fifth column: Will such soldiers follow orders should these orders clash with religious obligations? Aside from considering these soldiers ideologically, militaries must deal with them on a practical level (accommodating—or not—religious commandments, such as wearing clothing conforming to religious requirements, observing dietary laws). They must also consider how relevant religious observance is to the role of being a soldier: Is it conducive? Detrimental? Perhaps it has no impact? These problems become more acute particularly in military systems that have no official religious affiliation but conscript religious soldiers.
There are many ways to deal with these soldiers. Is there a way of predicting which kind of military will utilize what kind of treatment mode toward its religious members? This article suggests a possible theoretical construct regarding what might influence the managing of religious diversity in the ranks. The more removed a military is from society, the more likely it is to utilize internal mechanisms when dealing with religious soldiers. The less removed it is from society, the more likely it will be to turn to external—even civilian—mediating mechanisms in this regard.
In the summer of 2011, a number of soldiers walked out of an auditorium in which a musical performance was taking place. The men, cadets in an officer’s course, explained that they walked out of the performance because there were female vocalists, and the halacha prohibits men from listening to females sing.
As a result of this incident, representatives of the army chief rabbinate as well as the Matka’l, or Israeli General Staff, convened to discuss and ultimately publish new guidelines addressing the participation of religious soldiers in military ceremonies featuring female vocalists. These new guidelines were in turn criticized by a group of army chaplains united under the name “Keren Lahav—for the strengthening of Judaism in the IDF.” The group published a joint document in which they stated that the army’s decisions had undermined the trust of religious soldiers in the system. They claimed that the new guidelines—which were approved by the IDF’s Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz—demonstrated Peretz’s ignorance of the inner workings of the army system. One criticism against Rabbi Peretz was that he had not risen to his position from within the military but rather was an outside candidate placed directly at the top of the pyramid.