ISRAEL-Divine Service? Judaism and Israel's Armed Forces

By Hassner, Ron E. | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

ISRAEL-Divine Service? Judaism and Israel's Armed Forces


Hassner, Ron E., The Middle East Journal


ISRAEL Divine Service? Judaism and Israel's Armed Forces, by Stuart Cohen. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2014. 201 pages. $101.95.

In Divine Service?, Stuart Cohen, a foremost expert on religion in the armed forces, weighs in on the relationship be- tween Judaism and military service in Is- rael. The volume explores some of the most contentious issues at this intersection, in- cluding the integration of observant Jews into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and the growing presence of non-Jewish sol- diers in the IDF. Underlying all these are the author's twin interests in the influence of religion on Israel's security discourse and the prominence of security-related concerns in contemporary Jewish thought. Thorough in its sources, lucid in its presen- tation, and balanced in its analysis, this text brings together some of Cohen's most in- fluential publications as well as novel work.

Three initial chapters set the stage by providing a historical background. Co- hen explores traditional Jewish attitudes towards the use of force and the effect of the founding of Israel on these ideas. The decision to conform the framework of the IDF to basic Jewish precepts led national religious Jews to embrace military service as an article of faith and prompted leading rabbis to formulate an entirely novel codex of religious regulations regarding military life. The positions of this segment of Israeli society on national security issues, such as territorial compromise, are rooted in theo- logical justifications. Yet these very theo- logical justifications, Cohen shows, require its members to defer ultimate authority in military matters to the expert opinions of democratically elected secular leaders.

The next three chapters investigate the various means by which this community has adapted to the extreme demands of service in a modern military, such as the arrangement that allows pious soldiers to alternate between studying in a yeshiva and an abbreviated term of military ser- vice in homogenous units. Cohen also explores the intrusion of religious motifs into the IDF as sources of inspiration in battle, as teachings that legitimate the use of force, and as guidelines for military ethics. He concludes, however, that given the wide range of rabbinical opinions on the laws of war and given their oblique relevance to tactical or strategic issues, these sources have had no direct effect on military planning or operations.

Contemporary correspondences be- tween rabbis and their pupils in uniform, on the other hand, have addressed a wide range of mundane issues, such as reconciling mil- itary life with traditional Jewish practices. …

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