Serving in the IDF, 'for the sake of God and Jesus'
Matthew Wagner • THE JERUSALEM POST
Jesus supports the IDF and he wants his believers to be the best soldiers they can be.
That was the message conveyed by members of the local Messianic Jewish community via sacred texts, prayer and talks, to a group of 18-year-olds who took part this week in a premilitary program called Netsor.
"I am a soldier of God," said Boris, an intense redhead accepted to an elite combat unit, who is one of the 28 young men and women who participated in Netsor.
"I will do my best during my service in the IDF to serve God spiritually and physically. Not for the sake of state authorities but for the sake of God and Jesus," added Boris, as we sat in the dining room of a guest house that overlooks Lake Kinneret on Wednesday.
Not far from here, according to Christian tradition, Jesus walked on water, healed the sick and preached. Now, nearly two millennia later, young "believers," as they call themselves, convinced they are walking in Jesus's footsteps, hope to become the next fighter pilots, reconnaissance soldiers, paratroopers, tank commanders and sailors.
Some 150 highly motivated believers will join the IDF this year. Many of them will serve in combat units. Some of them have been through Netsor's week of mental and spiritual preparation offered by the Messianic community. Netsor is a Hebrew word that means "to guard" or "to stand vigilant."
The return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel with the establishment of the State of Israel brought with it a small but growing group of Messianic Jews, numbering today between 10,000 and 15,000. These Christians celebrate their own version of Jewish holidays such as Pessah and Succot and set aside Friday night and Saturday as a day of rest.
But they also believe that Jesus is the messiah and that he is the only path to redemption. Messianic Jews, who distance themselves from the more in-your-face proselytizing tactics of Jews for Jesus, are nevertheless very open about their beliefs, including their conviction that traditional Jewish faith is not sufficient for redemption.
Due to their religious beliefs, Messianic Jews have been subjected over the years to physical attacks and discrimination, including in the IDF.
M., a platoon commander in an elite demolition unit who is one of the founders of Netsor, asked The Jerusalem Post to leave out identifiable personal details of individuals who agreed to be interviewed out of concern that they would be singled out and blackballed by antagonistic elements with connections in the army.
"In the end, we believe that God opens and closes doors," said M. "And if he does not want someone to advance in the IDF it won't happen. But we don't want to make any mistakes that will hurt someone's IDF career."
For Messianic Jews, military service in the IDF is not only a mandatory civil duty, it is a religious obligation. Lacking an exegetical tradition but serious about the sacredness and relevance of the biblical text, "believers" learn this obligation to serve in the army right out of the New Testament.
Romans (13:1-7) warns not to resist political authority, because it is "the ordinance of God."
Colossians (3:22,23) teaches that one must excel as a faithful servant of one's superiors, not for personal aggrandizement but to serve God.
The group's interpretation of these texts, combined with a strong religious faith, transform them into soldiers of God determined to do his will during their stint in the army of the Jewish state.
Other verses, such as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, 5-7), which some Christians interpret as Jesus's support for pacifism, are seen by Messianic Jews as an obligation to love one's enemies while fighting and killing them.
"I hate what Palestinian terrorists do, therefore I will do anything, including kill, if necessary, to stop them," said Tzvi, an educator and counselor at Netsor. "But I do not allow that to prevent me from loving them as human beings."
Many Messianic Jews see their obligation to serve in the IDF as no different from the obligation of other Christians in the US, Britain or even Jordan and Egypt to serve their respective countries.
"If I lived in Jordan I would have the same feelings for the Jordanian army," said Tzvi.
But for some, serving in the IDF has special theological meaning. Yoel, who was an officer in an IDF combat unit, believes the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel is part of God's plans.
"The IDF is an instrument in the hands of God because it facilitates his plan," said Yoel. "But I would not call it a holy army or the army of God."
The Netsor program, which began three years ago, has quadrupled the number of students from seven in 2007 to 28 this year.
Yoel, one of Netsor's founders, hopes one day to create a premilitary academy for Messianic Jews modeled after existing academies for religious and secular Israelis.
"We pray that sometime in the future we will succeed in establishing a full-fledged premilitary academy that will offer a one-year program; with God's help."