Defense Ministry pressed to honor headstone preference for Haredi fallen soldier

Yisrael Yudkin’s parents want acronym for ‘May God avenge his blood’ added to epitaph at Jerusalem military cemetery; rabbis urge Gallant, IDF chief to grant family’s request

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

The grave of Yisrael Yudkin who was killed in battle in the Gaza Strip, pictured in Jerusalem on June 23, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/FLASH90)
The grave of Yisrael Yudkin who was killed in battle in the Gaza Strip, pictured in Jerusalem on June 23, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/FLASH90)

The family of an ultra-Orthodox soldier killed fighting in Gaza is battling the Defense Ministry to add an acronym for the words “May God avenge his blood” to the headstone of his grave at a military cemetery.

The struggle has delayed the unveiling of a headstone for Cpt. Yisrael Yudkin, a deputy company commander in the Haredi Netzah Yehuda battalion, who was buried at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem after falling in battle on May 22. His grave is covered by a blank slab of marble and a plastic sign bearing his name, rank, date of death and the logo of the Israel Defense Forces.

The case has also underscored broader issues with the army’s readiness to accommodate the needs of Haredi soldiers, amid legal and political wrangling about the sweeping exemptions from military service afforded to tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox men.

Yudkin’s parents, who live in Kfar Chabad near Lod, received a formalistic reason for the decision to reject their request. The family was told the letters Hey Yud Daled, which stand for Hashem Yikom Damo, are outside the protocol for military headstones, whose format is generally uniform with only a handful of permissible deviations, according to Channel 14.

“The Defense Ministry is simply tormenting our family,” Dubi Yudkin, one of Israel’s brothers from Kfar Chabad, said in an interview (in Hebrew) with Channel 14 on Monday. He added that the Yudkin household is “a Haredi family with four sons serving in the army.”

The Defense Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment from The Times of Israel.

Cpt. Israel Yudkin (Courtesy)

Also Monday, Orthodox rabbis from the Tzohar rabbinic group asked Defense Minister Yoav Galant and IDF Chief-of-Staff Herzi Halevi to respect the family’s request. Hashem Yikom Damo is a standard formulation in Judaism for Jews who were killed or otherwise lost their lives at the hands of others in connection with their faith.

The Yudkin case comes amid a polarizing debate in Israeli society on military service by Haredi men, who are largely exempt from conscription if they attend a yeshiva. Activists and politicians pushing for an end to the exemption argue it is discriminatory, as the High Court of Justice has repeatedly ruled.

The court is expected to rule on a new petition on the matter in the coming days, potentially triggering protests by Haredim and destabilizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, which hinges on the support of two ultra-Orthodox parties and is currently advancing legislation to continue the mass exemptions.

Both opponents and advocates of drafting more ultra-Orthodox recognize that doing so may require some adaptations — including controversial ones — to army procedures and culture, extending to Shabbat observance, gender separation and kosher certification.

The letter from Tzohar about Yudkin’s headstone referenced this debate.

“Such measures of sensitivity are necessary in our ongoing quest to help ensure that the army can be something embraced by the greater Israeli population,” the rabbis wrote, adding that in light of the family’s “sacrifice, we would ask that the decision be granted to forgo the need for uniformity in favor of the family’s interests.”

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