The IDF represents Israel’s multicultural nature but underneath the wrinkled green uniform is a special army preparing for the very special war that precedes the Messianic era. Three rabbis weigh in on how this prophetic mandate affects every aspect of the IDF and Israel’s wars.
Rabbi Rafi Peretz, a former chief rabbi of the IDF, believes the Jewish identity of the IDF makes its operational parameters different from those guiding other armies.
“In almost every way, the IDF is like every other army in the world,” Rabbi Peretz told Breaking Israel News. “Of course, we have a framework for educating our soldiers in military values, striving to make the IDF a moral army. We also emphasize the love of our nation and our land. Other armies do this as well but for the IDF, this takes on a unique form since this is our homeland from the time of the patriarchs.”
Rabbi Peretz noted that this special status is clear to every soldier in the IDF, including non-Jewish soldiers. He noted that in the 2012 war in Gaza (Operation Pillar of Defense), many soldiers, religious as well as non-religious, requested IDF tzitzit (four-cornered fringed garment) to wear into battle. The IDF version is an olive drab nylon mesh with small pockets in the corners for the fringes. Many felt that wearing this garment added a level of protection in addition to their bulletproof vests.
“Of course, the IDF does everything it can to permit religious soldiers to be observant. The food is kosher, we observe the Sabbath and holidays. But in addition to the religious observance, the IDF is clear about its unique status as the army of Israel. These are not simply Torah concepts that only speak to religious soldiers.”
“The IDF is part of a larger mission, part of the nation of Israel, and this spiritually raises up the soldiers, all of whom have chosen to risk their lives for this greater purpose,” Rabbi Peretz said. “When a soldier hears these things, religious or non-religious, Jewish or not, his soul connects to this unique status of his army service in a very deep way. Gradually, these concepts are becoming more important and central in the IDF.”
The Bible is full of wars described in great detail. In addition to the stories, the Bible also contains laws pertaining to how Israel should wage war and the process leading up to it. Rabbi Hillel Weiss, the spokesman for the nascent Sanhedrin, noted that just as Jews were uniquely commanded to observe Biblical commandments, the manner in which Israel wages war is also unique.
“There are many laws in the Torah about how to wage war,” Weiss told Breaking Israel News. “They are no less important than keeping kosher or keeping the Sabbath.”
He explained that there are three types of war. The first is a war for Israel’s existence in the land of Israel, referred to in Torah law as milchemet mitzvah (commanded war).
“Every Jew is required to take part in this type of war,” Rabbi Weiss explained. “Even women have a role to play in milchemet mitzvah.”
The second type is a war outside of Israel’s borders for political or economic reasons, referred to as milchemet rshut (permitted war). The king can declare this type of war only if the Sanhedrin permits. It is not permitted to institute a draft for this type of war.
The final type of war that will be waged in the times of the Messiah and incumbent upon the king of Israel will be to wipe out the nation of Amalek.
“These are the basic principles for war and their corresponding guidelines that Israel should follow,” Rabbi Weiss said. “This applied when we returned from the exile in Egypt and it applies today.”
“Just like we do not establish what is a kosher animal and what is not, the borders of Israel are not arbitrary nor were they established by any political body,” Rabbi Weiss said. “When the nation of Israel did not fulfill the commandment of entirely conquering the land in the time of Joshua, we suffered. The same is true today.”
“We are not relating to our Biblical requirement as it pertains to running a nation,” Weiss said. “Had we followed Biblical guidelines in how to wage war, we would not be in this mess today. By trying to be ‘politically correct’ in war, Israel ends up being more cruel than necessary. In the end, we are hated by the very nations we are trying to impress.”
“Even worse, the establishment of the state of Israel was an opportunity for the world to fix itself, to actualize the Biblical principles they already accept. The United Nations was begun with this intent but because it was not based in the Bible, it has gone astray.”
“Israel was established on the ideals of Zionism and Democracy,” he explained. “Where is the Torah in the State of Israel?” Weiss asked. “As soon as the Sanhedrin is established and Israel takes its role as a ‘light unto the nations’, international relations, even war, will become a very different matter.”
For the present, the IDF is charged with protecting the state of Israel, but in the future yet-to-be-revealed, the IDF will take on a new role; the War of Gog and Magog. Rabbi Pinchas Winston, a prolific end-of-days author, stated that this mission may arrive at any moment without any warning. The rabbi suggested that even a seemingly small skirmish like the one that took place in Gaza on Sunday night could spark the War of Gog and Magog.
“Any student of history knows that hindsight is 20-20 but in the moment, you never know what can set off a war,” Rabbi Winston told Breaking Israel News. “The First World War was set off by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. The 2014 War in Gaza was set off by the murder of three young boys. The same is true for the War of Gog and Magog but even more so.”
Winston said that this element of surprise, not knowing how or when the war will come, is a tactic intended to prepare people.
“Hashem is pushing events forward,” Rabbi Winston said. “So we can’t prepare for it. Unlike conventional wars that are the result of politics, the War of Gog and Magog won’t be the logical outcome of our actions. It is Hashem’s (God, literally ‘the name’) way of building up our faith and trust in him in the final days. He wants us to be ready for anything because Moshiach (Messiah) is unlike anything that came before.”
“There are some descriptions of what the War of Gog and Magog might possibly be like,” Winston said. He referred to a description by Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, known as the Vilna Gaon, who in the 18th century said that it will last 12 minutes and encompass the world.
“That was inconceivable at the time but now we can envision that as being realistic,” Rabbi Winston said. “There are many aspects described in prophecy that skeptics say are impossible. It is all part of the bigger plan.”
But the rabbi warned that even the prophetic descriptions could not be used to prepare for the final battle.
“Gog and Magog is unavoidable but how or when it manifests will depend on our relationship with God leading up to it,” Rabbi Winston said. “We can sweeten the judgment to the point where we barely notice the war. Or it could be more horrifying than anything we could ever imagine.”