IDF Passover Haggadah depicts ‘evil son’ as secular, other three boys as religious

Commentary in religious book distributed to officers for holiday says God sometimes ‘allows our enemies to attack us so that we’re inspired to repent’

The four sons as depicted in a Haggadah distributed by the IDF to its officers, April, 2023 (via Or Heller, Twitter)
The four sons as depicted in a Haggadah distributed by the IDF to its officers, April, 2023 (via Or Heller, Twitter)

A Passover Haggadah distributed by the IDF to its officers in the General Staff Operations Division sparked anger and allegations of religious coercion on the eve of the holiday on Wednesday.

The religious book, used to guide participants at the Passover Seder through the retelling of the Exodus story, contains a section called “The Four Sons,” or “Four Children,” in which each child exemplifies a different type.

The IDF version depicted the “evil son” as an apparently secular boy who wears a baseball hat instead of a yarmulke, has an ear piercing and holds a dog on a leash.

The “wise son,” the “simple son” and the “son who does not know how to ask” are depicted more positively as religious boys wearing yarmulkes.

The Haggadah is for children but it was distributed to officers regardless of their family status.

Commentary in a later section of the IDF Hagaddah tells readers, “The Holy One sometimes allows our enemies to attack us and harm us in order to inspire us to repent and draw closer to Him.”

Another commentary reads, “Just as God brought our ancestors out of the land of Egypt… so we too can… rescue ourselves with the help of the Torah and its commandments from the slavery that takes over our lives. We will achieve our true freedom only by walking in the path of the Torah.”

Pictures of the most controversial pages of the Haggadah posted on social media drew some outcry, with one Twitter user sarcastically branding the IDF as “God’s army,” another one writing, “Did someone say religious coercion?” and a third who said, “Who asked for brainwashing and didn’t receive it?”

But some pushed back on the criticism, noting that the text itself portrays the “evil son” as someone who is not interested in Jewish law. Others pointed out that the IDF has historically distributed religious texts to soldiers at their swearing-in ceremony and that has been widely accepted.

The controversy came as Israeli society contends with a deep and growing rift, as the right-wing and religious government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushes contentious judicial legislation and other policies that have set off mass protests by the government’s opponents. The protesters believe the legislation will fundamentally change Israel’s democratic character and threatens basic personal rights.

The opposition to the coalition has spread into the military, with some high-level reservists refusing to train in protest, and Netanyahu deciding to fire Defense Minister Yoav Gallant last week after Gallant warned about the judicial overhaul’s security implications. Gallant has not been formally removed from his position and has continued to serve as defense minister.

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