Military rabbis in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are an integral part of the army and currently posted in almost all army units. The role of the military rabbi has undergone fundamental changes since the founding of the State and the IDF, most notably in the past generation. While the formal definition of the military rabbi’s role has remained relatively stable; in practice it has undergone dramatic changes on the backdrop of processes in the IDF Military Rabbinate and in the religious-Zionist sector in Israel. Whereas in the past military rabbis were viewed as religious service providers, during the term of Chief Military Rabbi Rontzky (2010–2016) they viewed themselves in the role of a “Kohen anointed for war” (Meshuach Milchama). Harking back to the biblical description of the Kohanim who strengthen the people at a time of war, this military figure is entrusted with strengthening soldiers, morally and spiritually, before they go into battle. Nonetheless, a return to the religious services provider model can be discerned in recent years, mainly in response to the contention of religionization in the military. The article focuses on the changing role of the IDF military rabbi and identifies three major explanatory factors of these changes: (a) Differences between the formative period of the IDF Military Rabbinate and later periods; (b) Demographic changes in the composition of the IDF, mainly the growing number of soldiers from the national-religious sector; (c) The changing character of the Chief Military Rabbi’s background which affected the nature of the military rabbi’s role. The article aims to show that the Military Rabbinate has not been immune to the struggle over the collective Jewish identity of the State of Israel, and its underlying processes reflect the complexity and diversity of Israeli society.
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