The news in brief: A woman soldier asked to say kaddish, the mourner’s prayer, in an army synagogue. The rabbi of the base refused to let her. Again the army rabbinate showed narrow-mindedness that offended its legitimate target audience – soldiers with religious needs.
And for the news in full: In mid-May, a woman soldier serving at a Nahal base learned that her grandmother had died and received the standard one-week furlough to be with her family. The next day, her parents flew to America, where the funeral and shiva were to be held. The soldier – a member of a Nahal group from Noam, the youth movement of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement – returned to her base. There she got a call from her father, who said that he was unable to say kaddish where he was, for lack of a minyan. He asked her to say kaddish in his place.
The soldier spoke with the rabbi of her base and suggested that she organize a minyan of women in the synagogue at the base. At first, the rabbi agreed. But another religious woman soldier objected to such openness. Her own rabbi, she told the rabbi of the base, forbade such a practice. The army rabbi consulted his commanders in the Israel Defense Forces rabbinate. Then he informed the soldier from Noam that if she liked, she could organize a minyan in a classroom on the base. But she could not say kaddish in the IDF synagogue. The soldier was deeply offended. A representative of the Masorti Movement contacted the office of IDF Chief Rabbi Avihai Ronski – who supported the base rabbi’s “solution.”
Please note: The army rabbinate transgressed twice. Its first sin was discrimination against Conservative Judaism. An army base has a synagogue to meet the religious needs of soldiers. Soldiers from the Masorti Movement have every right to use the facility.
But the rabbi could have suggested another solution. In Orthodox Judaism, there are also synagogues where women say kaddish, from the women’s section. Some halakhic authorities oppose the practice; others permit it. The IDF Rabbinate doesn’t need to take the more stringent stance. Its job is to serve soldiers. In this case, a soldier needed to mourn in a religious framework. Instead of providing spiritual support, the rabbinate worried about what religious hard-liners would say – a common form of cowardice in the religious world – and failed to perform its mission. That’s the second sin.