Should the Israeli Army Be Religious or Secular?

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There’s a fascinating article over at the Christian Science Monitor now about the increasing level of religiosity in the Israeli army. One of the major concerns is rabbis giving religious pep talks to the troops before they go into battle. In one case, during the war in Gaza last year, an army rabbi reportedly told some soldiers that “this war is not just a regular war. It’s the war of the children of light against the children of darkness.”

Additionally:
Soon after the war, the liberal Haaretz newspaper published excerpts from a pamphlet available in military synagogues that featured quotes from rabbinical scholars who argued that Palestinians were tantamount to foreigners and that soldiers should show no mercy to “the cruel.”

The pamphlet was printed by the rabbinate’s department for “Jewish awareness,” a new unit set up by Rontzki to help with outreach.

Until now the army has been a largely secular entity that is welcoming of religious soldiers, but isn’t inherently religious in nature. Some people think that’s changing. And some think that’s good, and some don’t.

It seems to me that it’s unwise both logistically and politically to have religious goals guiding the actions of an army. But I know nothing about the military, so I’m not sure I should really take this much farther except to say that if you’re going to give a pep talk before going to war, I would try this one:

Posted on August 14, 2009

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