As the High Holy Days approach, Israelis of all religious backgrounds are cognizant of a more spiritual atmosphere in the country – and that includes IDF soldiers, who during the past several weeks have been taken to meet some of the Jewish world's most prestigious spiritual leaders.
In some cases, the rabbis have visited IDF bases, where they speak to soldiers and encourage them to live more moral lives. The program has proven to be very successful, with soldiers enthusiastically embracing the meetings, regardless of their religious backgrounds and reporting that they emerged from the meetings with a very positive feeling.
Soldiers in many units have been brought to see leaders like Rabbi Yisroel Hager, the current leader of the Vizhnitz Hassidic group, who lives in Haifa.
As would be expected, however, there has been opposition to the meetings – not in the secular media or among politicians who generally shy away from greater integration of Judaism into the life of the state, but from haredi activists who are opposed to IDF service for members of their communities.
The criticism is not of the soldiers – but of the rabbis who are meeting with the soldiers, attempting to question their legitimacy as leaders in the Hassidic and haredi communities because they “support” the IDF, which runs programs to recruit haredi community members into the army. While the IDF may be fine for secular youth, religious leaders such as these have no business associating with the army, the activists believe.
Several days ago, for example, the Vizhnitz Rebbe met with a group of soldiers from a haredi unit (Nachal Haredi) who embraced the Rebbe and expressed their happiness to be able to meet him. Photos of the event were distributed, but anti-IDF, anti-Zionist groups associated with the Neturei Karta sect hijacked some of the photos and headlined them with insults aimed at the Rebbe.
According to one of the photos, the Seret-Vizhnitz Rebbe is nothing more than a “farmer who calls himself a Rebbe.”
Neither the IDF nor representatives of the Rebbe had any comment on the matter.