The Progressive Judaism and Masorti movements are demanding that the defense minister and Israel Defense Forces chief of staff appoint a Reform or Conservative military rabbi to provide religious services to non-Orthodox Jewish soldiers.
In a letter sent by leaders of the two moments to Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, they claim that the current Military Rabbinate cannot or is not interested in providing the religious needs of soldiers with a different worldviews, and therefore the IDF must give them an alternative.
Soldiers facing difficulties
Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Israel Religious Action Center and Rabbi Mauricio Balter of the Masorti Movement note in their letter that there are dozens of active Reform and Conservative congregations in Israel, and that thousands of citizens take part in their activities.
"The Jewish soldiers serving in the army reflect the composition of the Jewish population in the country, which is mostly non-Orthodox," the two write, demanding that the IDF treat all its soldiers equally and respect their freedom of religion.
"Currently, religious services in the IDF are provided exclusively by the Military Rabbinate, which is affiliated with and operates as part of Judaism's Orthodox stream. This situation means that the needs of soldiers affiliated with Judaism's non-Orthodox streams are not met throughout their military services – compulsory, career and reserve service.
"The commanders in the different units and the elements in charge of providing religious services in the units are unfamiliar with the nature of the non-Orthodox religious services, and therefore cannot meet different demands in this context."
The letter, which was also sent to Major-General Avi Zamir, head of the IDF'S Personnel Directorate, and Chief Military Rabbi Brigadier-General Rafi Peretz, includes examples from recent years of difficulties encountered by non-Orthodox soldiers: A commander's refusal to exempt his soldiers from the daily shaving duty during the Counting of the Omer, because they don't wear a skullcap; rejecting female soldiers' request to hold a women's prayer at their base's synagogues; and denying a bereaved family's request to hold a Reform funeral for a fallen soldier.
"We believe soldiers interested in non-Orthodox religious services should have the option to turn to a Reform or Conservative military rabbi, who will be able to provide individual religious services to soldiers, instructions to the commanders, and advice on religious affairs," Kariv and Balter explained.
"We would be happy to hold a dialogue on this important issue with the authorized elements in the defense establishment and IDF, in order to find a suitable solution, which would guarantee an equal and honorable response of religious services to non-Orthodox soldiers as well."
Rabbi Balter said he had appealed to the chief of staff and defense minister after "soldiers belonging to the Masorti Movement, a Zionist movement which encourages its youth to serve in the army, expressed their distress and need for spiritual support matching their way of life."
According to Balter, "Every soldier who dedicates his time, and sometimes risks his life for the State, is entitled to religious services in accordance to his faith."
Rabbi Gilad Kariv added, "The IDF is the people's army, and the central place where the Israeli communities meet with each other. It's only natural that this should be expressed in the service of Reform and Conservative rabbis alongside their Orthodox colleagues out of mutual respect and a common desire to serve the State of Israel."
The IDF Spokesperson's Office said in response, "The discussed letter has been received by the IDF. The response will be given directly to its senders, and not through the media."