IDF rabbinate under fire for discrimination

Army rabbinic rulings book declares ‘goyim’ don’t have equal rights in Israel, recommends that women not affix mezuzas

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Then-chief rabbi of the IDF Rafi Peretz is seen on February 23, 2012. (Gershon Elinson/ Flash90/ File)
Then-chief rabbi of the IDF Rafi Peretz is seen on February 23, 2012. (Gershon Elinson/ Flash90/ File)

The IDF’s top rabbi came under fire Sunday, days after the publication of a book of IDF rabbinic rulings that said non-Jews do not have the same rights as Jewish citizens and that it is undesirable for women officers to perform the religious ceremony of attaching a mezuza to doorposts.

Opposition leader MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) condemned the statement about non-Jews as “dark and dangerous, against Jewish values, democratic values, the values of the IDF and the laws of the State and its declaration of independence.”

The 40-page book, “Hilchot Mezuza” (Laws of the Mezuza), contains IDF rabbinic rulings on a number of issues surrounding the religious requirement of attaching a mezuza to the doorpost of dwellings within the context of army life. The publication has recently been distributed on IDF bases, Haaretz reported.

The book included the phrase “goyim are not entitled to equal rights in the State,” in reference to the idea of public ownership of state buildings, such as an army base.

“It is outrageous and unpleasant that in the IDF, of all bodies, where people of various ethnicity have fought side by side, endangering their lives for the sake of the state, doubt should be cast on a cornerstone of the Declaration of Independence — that of absolute equal state and cultural rights for all citizens, regardless of religion, race, or sex,” Yachimovich said.

MK Elazer Stern (Hatnua) called on IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz to unequivocally declare that there is no place in the army’s literature for use of the phrase “goyim” — literally, “nations” — when referring to IDF soldiers.

“It is about time that the army rabbinate joined the real world of the IDF,” said Stern, who chairs the Knesset Religion and State lobby. “They are part of the people’s army, with all its different shades.”

A mezuza is a slim container housing a parchment upon which is written Biblical excerpts, traditionally attached to the doorposts of Jewish homes.

The book, published by the IDF’s rabbinate, examined the relationship between Jewish and non-Jewish soldiers as joint dwellers in army bases. The IDF has a significant number of Bedouin and Israeli Arab soldiers, as well as immigrants who are not born Jewish. The book also tackled the question of whether female officers can attach a mezuza to a new building as is the custom. Although concluding that they can, the book recommended against it as the ritual is traditionally performed by a man.

“This detached attitude, in which immigrant soldiers are called ‘goyim’ and women cannot attach a mezuza, seriously damages their affiliation to the Judaism of many IDF soldiers,” Stern said. “I am sure that Rabbi Peretz will quickly respond with a call to correct what is necessary and to bring the military rabbinate back to our army.”

Yachimovich called on IDF Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz to remove the book from circulation on IDF bases and abolish it.

Haaretz reported that the IDF responded to questions about the book, and in particular to the limitation placed on women performing the ritual, by explaining that although the custom in the IDF is for a male officer to fix the mezuza, the book does not forbid women from doing so.

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