Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Holy Warrior

Rabbi Avihai Ronsky is a man of many deeds. He is a foundering and leading member of the settlement of Itamar at the heart of the West Bank, from which armed men frequently depart on unfriendly night visits to nearby Palestinian villages.

Rabbi Ronsky founded and headed a high-level yeshiva in the settlement of Ithamar and had numerous students, but in recent years he did not have much time to devote to it. The State of Israel has taken him into the ranks of its armed forces at the rank of Brigadier General and placed him at the head of the Military Rabbinate.

In this position, Rabbi Ronsky took a new approach. No more would he focus on keeping military kitchens kosher, the main task which his predecessors at the job set themselves. Rabbi Ronsky made it his business to circulate among the soldiers, accompany them to training by day and sleep among them at night. He made enormous efforts to educate them and inoculate moral values in their hearts and minds and explain to them that military service is an important and sublime act, from the nationalist as well as the religious point of view. That serving in the army was indeed virtually a sacred act, designed to keep the land Jewish since our ancestors lived here and God has given His solemn promise.

In particular Rabbi Ronsky distinguished himself eighteen months ago, having very sincere and serious conversations with the soldiers breaking into the Gaza Strip and giving them spiritual and theological guidance on the conduct of Holy War: "We who are dealing with sacred matters should know that there is a time for war as there is a time for peace. In time of war, cursed be he who does not fight with all his heart and soul, who does not bloody his sword, he who spares an enemy when an enemy should not be spared!" Judging by the findings later gathered by Judge Goldstone, quite a few soldiers did heed the teachings of Rabbi Ronsky.

There were at the time some leftists protesting at the teachings which the honorable Rabbi instilled in the soldiers, accusing him of exceeding his authority and some of them even daring to demand his dismissal. But thank God, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi gave the Rabbi his full backing, the storm passed and Rabbi Ronsky continued his dedicated holy work for the full four years of his term. These days he's about to retire from the military and return to his students at the high-level yeshiva in the flourishing settlement of Ithamar.

Rabbi Ronsky granted a farewell interview to Ma'ariv newspaper, noting with satisfaction his successful educational and sacred work inside the army, but did not conceal the dark spots which he also encountered. For example, while he had considerable success in letting lives of Palestiniansbe disregarded, there remains a lot of work to be done in connection with the excessive preoccupation with preserving the soldiers' own lives which has infested the army in recent years. "One injured soldier and the offensive is halted. The communication networks are only concerned with the wounded rather than with the mission. This is not the way to perform your assigned task. Somebody got hurt? The medical teams will later pick him up. If he dies, he dies. For soldiers, the mission must come first."

It also disturbs Rabbi Ronsky that kibbutzniks are no longer eager to take command positions in the IDF. "This is a sweeping phenomenon in the kibbutzim. They say things like 'I am doing my duty. I am ready to get into a combat unit, an elite unit even, but not follow it up with an officer training course." This is not right, if the army thinks you are fit to be an officer it is your duty to accept. But among them officer's training has become really unacceptable. It comes halfway to being considered a sucker. I spoke this week with a soldier from a kibbutz in the north and asked him how many of his school class became officers. He told me 'one'. I asked him how come. He said, 'Nowadays the kibbutz is privatized, the discourse is purely economic.

The situation in Tel Aviv is even worse from Rabbi Ronsky's point of view. Schools do not instill a militant Zionism in their pupils, they do not learn to love their country nor to know that it belongs only to Jews. The Herzliya Gymnasium even explicitly refused to let army officers enter the school so they could instill some military spirit in the students. No wonder that Tel Avivians tend to shirk combat service, or shirk military service altogehter.

So who does go to the army, and to combat units, and enters enthusiastically into the officers' training course and starts climbing up the ladder of command? Of course, the religious nationalists and the settlers, those who share Rabbi Ronsky's political and religious outlook. "Look at the Paratroopers Brigade. The four deputy battalion commanders, who will be battalion commanders next, are all of them religious. Yeshiva graduates. Same with the Golani Brigade. By next month, the brigade commander, his deuty and the four battalion commanders will be religious. In the Shaldag commandos, two-thirds of the squad leaders are religious." Rabbi Ronsky certainly does not like all this. "That is social imbalance. The army is supposed to be a mirror of Israeli society. I see the overwhelming presence of the religious in the command structure as a very sad thing."

Very sad indeed. Why are we, the mainstream Israeli public at large, doing it? Why do we leave the religious nationalists and settlers alone in the turret, in the loneliness of military command? Why do we not join them and share the burden with them? Why are we not really enthusiastic about the idea of dedicating our lives – and sacrificing them – in combat command positions, fighting the Holy War and bloodying our swords and not sparing the enemy and defending day and night the Jewish people's rule over the Greater Israel which God promised to our ancestors?

Why, indeed?