A Guest Post by Rafi G
(originally posted on LII)
A short while ago there was a notice in the news about the IDF enforcing policy about beards. Soldiers in the IDF are not allowed to have beards unless they meet certain requirements. The army rarely enforced this and similar rules.
In an effort to improve the level of discipline, the army has decided to enforce these rules. no more beards. No longer being unkempt. No more letting things go. but because we live in a Jewish country, and the IDF has plenty of religious soldiers and wants to keep good relations with them, they had to show some flexibility on that. So they came up with a set of exceptions. Religious soldiers are allowed to have a beard, as long as they get the approval of their commanding officer.
Along comes sefirat ha'omer when we show outward displays of mourning, such as not shaving and getting haircuts, and suddenly we have a problem. People who were able to shave as per the army rules until now, suddenly cannot. But they do not have permission to let it grow out.
Yisrael HaYom newspaper wrote today about an incident in the army in which 6 soldiers affiliated with the Conservative movement wished to get permission to not shave during sefirat ha'omer. The army rabbi refused to give them recognition as religious soldiers and therefore their request was rejected. the rabbi said that he does not recognize the Conservative Movement as religious and therefore they cannot be considered religious. (they have appealed and are waiting for a response, but in the meantime they have had to shave because of this ruling).
I do not understand this rabbi's position. I understand he does not want to give any tacit recognition of the Conservative Movement - just like most Orthodox rabbis have the position of not sharing a pulpit at events with Conservative/Reform rabbis so as not to be perceived as approving of them in their positions. He thinks that by approving the request of 6 individual soldiers, he will be perceived as approving of the whole Conservative Movement.
It was not the Conservative Movement asking permission to be recognized as religious soldiers. It was 6 individual soldiers. And if they asked if they could put on tefillin, would the army rabbi not allow them saying they are not religious so they are not allowed? If they asked for time for davening, would he reject that as well?
These were 6 individual soldiers. Since when do we reject the right of individuals, no matter their affiliation, to perform mitzvahs (granted, not shaving during sefira is not actually a mitzvah per se, but it is a widespread Jewish custom)? What right did this rabbi have to reject the request of an individual to follow Jewish tradition?
The rabbi should be applauding every occurrence of his soldiers trying to keep tradition and custom, and not rejecting it.
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