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Religious freedom NGOs: IDF soldiers should not be forced to eat kosher

CM 05/08/2021

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Hiddush, a nonprofit organization that champions religious freedom and equality, together with the Secular Forum, sent a letter on Wednesday to IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi in which they argued that barring soldiers from eating non-kosher food outside of mess halls in IDF bases is illegal.

The organization sent the letter after receiving numerous complaints from soldiers who were told that they were not allowed to use kitchenettes or private refrigerators and microwaves for non-kosher food they brought form home.
According to the letter, IDF rules stipulate that all IDF central mess halls must maintain strict Kashrut measures so that religious soldiers will be able to eat.
The rules allow soldiers to bring non-kosher food from home and store it in refrigerators as long as they are completely covered. 

However, the rules bar soldiers from warming non-kosher food on in offices or kitchenettes, even if they are using personal microwaves. According to lawyer Sagi Agmon who wrote the letter, these restrictions are illegal as they restrict the freedom of soldiers who want to eat food from home for no apparent reason.
“There is no dispute that the army is right in providing kosher food for all those who desire it,” wrote Agmon. “However, the stringent measures taken to ensure kashrut in the main mess halls does not necessitate barring rights from soldiers who do not wish to eat kosher food. While a soldier is not in the mess hall, the IDF has no right to force a soldier to abide by the halakhic rules,” he added.
Agmon argued that the current situation where Army Rabbinate representatives enforce restrictions on soldiers who are eating their own food outside of the mess hall violates the rights of soldiers, Jewish or non-Jewish, who do not wish to eat kosher. Agmon called for IDF commanders to intervene in order to guard these soldiers’ rights.
Both Hiddush and the Secular Forum stressed that they do not want to harm religious soldiers and therefore suggested some possible arrangements when eating outside of the mess hall.
For example, soldiers can place kosher and non-kosher microwaves in their kitchenettes and clearly label which is which. In places where there are two or more kitchenettes, one of them can be designated as non-Kosher and clearly labeled as such.
Rabbi and Lawyer Ori Regev of Hiddush said, “The IDF’s soldiers and officers have the right to enjoy freedom of religion as stipulated by Israel’s Declaration of Independence. the IDF and its rabbinate has no right to violate this right within the walls of army bases. Secular and non-Jewish soldiers deserved to be respected no less than their religious counterparts, and if the IDF does not respond – we will not hesitate to turn to the courts in order to curb this religious coercion.”
Dr. Ram Fruman, head of the Secular Forum, was more blunt.
“The [army] rabbinate’s megalomania and the free hand they receive makes them feel like they can continue to infiltrate realms over which they have no authority, and violate the rights of secular soldiers over and over again. There is no reason why a secular soldier should not be abke to eat  non-kosher food outside of the mess hall, or cook food for themselves, whether kosher or not, or on shabbat or a regular day. it is absurd that the rabbinate feels like it can interfere when a soldier uses a microwave or toaster that he or she brought from home. We hope that this letter will put an end to this unruly behavior.”    

Source: Jerusalem Post

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