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Thursday, July 18, 2013

IDF: Soldier, want to grow a beard? Talk to your military rabbi

Want an exemption from shaving? It's no longer so easy. In the IDF, they are trying to stop soldiers from pretending to be religious in order to avoid shaving. 

This week, the Duchifat Battalion commander canceled the permission of dozens of fighters to grow beards, claiming that many gave false statements regarding their religious observance. Similar processes are currently taking place in additional battalions in the Kfir Brigade, to which Duchifat belongs.

Brigade Commander Colonel Udi Ben-Moha decided to make it more difficult to get a shaving exemption, and decided to grant soldiers permission to grow a beard only after an interview with the company's chaplain. The soldiers, for their part, are claiming infringement on religious rights.

Other commanders in the IDF have also discovered that many soldiers grow beards under the guise of religious observation, but in fact live as secular soldiers, without observing other traditions or religious practices.

The IDF is interested in preserving, as much as possible, a standard appearance for soldiers, especially in combat units, while avoiding exploitation of religion for the sake of a shaving exemption.

The Kfir Brigade's decision on the enforcement of rules of presentation has angered some soldiers, who claim that it violates their fundamental right to keep a tradition which they already honored even before their military service.

One soldier whose exemption was canceled told Ynet, "I graduated from the Or Akiva movement and at home, we always maintain tradition. My brother also does not shave and observes the mitzvot, and from my first day in the army, and even prior to this, I had a beard. 

When we explained to the battalion commander that according to Jewish law we are not allowed to pass a razor over our skin, he told me and my friends that if the chief military rabbi, Brigadier-General Rafi Peretz can shave with a kosher machine, always walk around with a kippah, and be a rabbi, so can you.”

The IDF Spokesperson responded, “According to military orders, soldiers who do not live full observant lifestyles, or who do not have the appropriate permissions, cannot grow a beard.”

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