Breslover hasidim are a common sight along the Gaza border, as are their Chabad-Lubavitch competitors. Military police have been blocking access to vehicles that do not belong to local residents, but somehow the hasidim are getting through anyway. So have other various religious types, with and without any authority, with and without any permission from the IDF. Chabad and Breslov use this often unapproved access to soldiers to do missionary activities with them when they are at their most vulnerable – something the IDF officially opposes.
Above: former IDF Chief Rabbi Avichai Rontzki
…Menashe Raz, a former radio broadcaster, tells the following story, heard from a fighter who had just been in Saja'iyya [an area of Gaza where intense fighting between the IDF and Hamas has taken place]:
"In the days of waiting (for the ground operation to begin), we talked a lot about the operation. As the days passed, our understanding deepened that this was a war for our home, literally. No more explanation was needed."
"Still, there were those who did explain. Before we went into Saja'iyya, they gathered us up to listen to the words of a senior officer. The officer was Avichai Rontzki from Itamar [a West Bank] (settlement), a former IDF chief rabbi. He delivered a messianic, fiery speech, which to me and many of my friends seemed strange and incomprehensible. He praised the miracle of God's army, an army in which my comrades and I did not know we were serving.
"War, you know, is terrible. Friends killed and wounded, and you're scared. You look around all the time, to make sure that your body is still in one piece.
"When they brought us back out [of Gaza], we just wanted to eat, shower, sleep and call home, mom and dad. We got close to Kibbutz Nahal Oz and then they gathered us together. You know how it is in the army - when told to gather, you gather. Waiting for us was a bunch of Breslov Hasidic Jews singing 'Messiah, Messiah', dancing and bouncing around. We formed a circle around them, and a bunch of fighters danced with them in ecstasy.
"I stood to the side, with the other fighters. We did not know how to take it. We really just wanted to eat. But then the Breslovs fell silent, and one Orthodox man, dressed in black, with a beard and sideburns [i.e., peyos], read to us from the Torah."
The "Na-Nach-Nachmans" are a common sight along the Gaza border, as are their Lubavitch competitors. The military police has been blocking access to vehicles that do not belong to local residents, but somehow they are getting through anyway. So have other various religious types, with and without any authority, with and without any permission.
It is fair to assume that the religious soldiers - or some of them at least - find comfort from all this missionary activity. Others are vehemently opposed to it. The IDF is the Israel Defense Forces, they say, not the army of God - and they are right. Other, more critical issues aside, this nuisance is also something the IDF will have to take care of, but on a different day.
Rontzki, who is Zionist Orthodox and a ba'al teshuva, got into trouble when, as IDF chief rabbi, he told Zionsit Orthodox students in an IDF preparatory hesder yeshiva program that any soldier who shows mercy to the enemy will be "damned." He also said that Orthodox soldiers who are free from sin (unlike in Rontzki's mind, their non-Orthodox comrades in arms) make the best combat soldiers. He also told soldiers that instead of arresting accused terrorists, they should just "shoot them in their beds" and "exterminate" them.
Along with all this, Rontkzi also published a booklet for soldiers that characterized the IDF as God's army and dehumanized Israel's enemies.
He eventually left active duty after it became clear he would not be reappointed as IDF chief rabbi and resumed his work as rosh yeshiva in Itamar.
As for Chabad and Breslov, on one hand their goal is to cheer up soldiers and provide them with some comfort. But both groups combine that with open missionary activity the IDF officially opposes.
But the IDF rabbinate often turns a blind eye to it or even encourages it because, like Rontzki, they view the IDF as a religious army of God, not as the army of the people of Israel.
Meanwhile, politicians like Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon of the Likud Party are so desperate for haredi votes that they refuse to take action to stop the Chabad and Breslov missionary activity.
[Hat Tip: APC.]