Controversial general to visit Australia

June 3, 2012 by  
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M ajor General Elazar Stern Stern will visit Australia this month in his role as a member of the board of advisers of the Shorashim initiatives being undertaken by the Tzohar Rabbinic Association supported by the Harry O. Triguboff Institute in Jerusalem.

Major General Elazar Stern

The product of a Religious Zionist upbringing,  he was commander of the IDF officer school, its Chief Education Officer, and in his last post, the IDF Manpower Chief.

His book, “Navigations” summarises his contrarian views to those of many generals, most rabbis and all politicians. While Stern doesn’t pretend to have won all of his battles, he is sure that he was always on the right side. Throughout the book, people either admit in advance or after the event that Stern is right or are condemned by the author for their refusal to see the light.

For many years a source of pride within the Religious Zionist community as a prominent member of the first generation of shomer shabbat generals,  Stern made his way throughout his years of service wearing his kippah unabashedly, never shying away from his background or camouflaging his beliefs and practices.

Yet even as he was pursuing his military career, Religious Zionism was changing in ways that made him the contrarian that that he is today. Attracted by its more stringent practices, Religious Zionists were sliding toward ultra-Orthodoxy in halachic practice. At the same time, their ever-intensifying devotion to the land of Israel had eroded the significance—even holiness—they had once attributed to the state. Stern, who remained religious and Zionist in equal measure, discovered that his performance of what he considered to be his duties to the State brought him foes of a new kind.

Yet Stern’s enemies haven’t been able to chase him off and he has no thought of abandoning his community.

“I continue to send my children through the Religious Zionist educational system and would like to see my grandchildren growing up within these institutions,” he said.

But this hasn’t stopped him from criticising the rabbis who currently lead those institutions including his attempts  to simplify the process of conversion for Russian immigrants serving in the IDF.when the official Israeli Chief Rabbinate would not cooperate. Once the pride of Religious Zionism, the Rabbinate is now controlled by the ultra-Orthodox, who oppose the drafting of women altogether and consequently make it difficult for female immigrants serving in Israel’s army to convert.

Stern continues to believe that Hesder yeshivas which offer a program combining an abbreviated term of military service with years of Talmudic study should be reserved for a small intellectual elite rather than providing something of a haven for thousands of youngsters whose parents want them to serve shorter terms in the army. Moreover, he argues that all Hesder students, while in uniform, should serve in “mixed” units, alongside the “regular” soldiers, rather than in segregated all-religious units saying “I believe this encounter is important to both sides: the secular soldier who never really met a dati [religious person], and similarly to the other side.

“It is important that the religious soldiers meet the secular soldiers, since they will also benefit from it. We will all benefit from it”, he said.  When Stern tried to force the change through, he was publicly “held in infamy and contempt.”  Even after the years after his departure from the military, many members of the Religious Zionist sector still hold him in contempt. He continues to give them new reasons for doing so, having recently becoming vocal in his role  as chairman of the Genesis Philanthropy Group, one of the most vocal proponents of easing conversion procedures for Russian immigrants and other Israelis.

Stern continues to believe that Hesder yeshivas which offer a program combining an abbreviated term of military service with years of Talmudic study should be reserved for a small intellectual elite rather than providing something of a haven for thousands of youngsters whose parents want them to serve shorter terms in the army. Moreover, he argues that all Hesder students, while in uniform, should serve in “mixed” units, alongside the “regular” soldiers, rather than in segregated all-religious units:

“In my view, it is important that the religious soldiers meet the secular soldiers, since they will also benefit from it. We will all benefit from it”, he said.  When Stern tried to force the change through, he was publicly “held in infamy and contempt.”  Even after the years after his departure from the military, many members of the Religious Zionist sector still hold him in contempt.

He appealed to those opposed to such measures to “stop trying to confuse him “with halacha. While Jewish law is the proper concern of the rabbis, Stern is right to point out that their growing power in other realms of Israeli life has damaged the Religious Zionist community, exemplified by the rabbinic letter instructing Jewish homeowners not to rent apartments to Arab.

In the meantime, The Harry O. Triguboff Institute-supported Shorashim Centre has announced  plans to expand assistance offices in Kiev, Minsk and Lvov, in addition to its recent opening  in Moscow.

The expanded activity aims to receive information about searches for immigrants to Israel to prove their Jewish roots and to contact  relatives to obtain acceptable proof of Jewish lineage.

Israel’s Minister of Justice, Yaakov Neeman said: “The reality Shorashim-Tzohar and the Harry Triguboff Foundation try to tackle is more of a danger to the State of Israel than the threat of a nuclear Iran”.

The Triguboff Foundation’s General Manager/Israel Operations, Shalom Norman stressed that the Minister’s statement underlines the strategic danger to the State of Israel of denying the rights of Jewish heritage to hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

“An entire generation of Jews could be lost, thereby undermining the ability to maintain Israel as a Jewish State”, Norman said.

Shorashim, under auspices of the Israeli religious freedom activism group, Tzohar, operates on the basis that immediate action is vital to avoid a demographic shift in Israel toward a non-Jewish majority. It  works to prove their Jewish roots for up to  a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Many came under the Law of Return which only requires one Jewish grandparent on either side to be considered Jewish, whereas the Rabbinate follows Jewish law which traces identity solely through the mother’s lineage. It operates in close co-operation with the European Rabbinic Council and the Rabbinic Coalition of America.

“Most of the immigrants, not only in Israel but in many other countries of the world including the US never realise there is any doubt about their Jewish identity until they want to marry or are buried. The former Soviet Union issued neither ketubot nor Jewish burial records,” Norman added.

“In over 80 per cent of the cases undertaken, Shorashim is able to find enough proof for the Rabbinate to accept evidence of Jewish identity. It is in a dire race to gather as much information as possible before witnesses die or bankrupt archives are liquidated”.

• The Tzohar Rabbinic Association is supported by The Harry O. Triguboff Institute in Jerusalem .

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