Article on Rabbi Hammer during latest lecture tour: Religious Zionism

Religious Zionism represents the best of Israel, says rabbi

By AARON HOWARD

•// Thu, Nov 08, 2012

Operation Cast Lead (The Gaza War, Dec. 27, 2008-Jan. 18, 2009) was a military watershed. The success of the war restored public confidence in the Israel Defense Forces, a confidence that wavered in the aftermath of the 2006 war against Hezbollah. The war will be studied by military planners because of the major changes in IDF training and innovative thinking prior to the war. This training led to a new decisive and aggressive attitude and a highly motivated commitment to the mission on the part of Israeli ground forces in Operation Cast Lead.

By late 2008, the IDF was prepared to fight a war where coordinated air strikes and precision-guided weapons were important but where well-trained and highly motivated ground forces were decisive.

Operation Cast Lead also was a watershed in religious terms. For the first time, religiously observant soldiers played a significant role in the IDF leadership and ground forces. That’s one of the major reasons why IDF ground forces demonstrated such high morale and fighting spirit, Rabbi Shalom Hammer said.

Rabbi Hammer will present “A Soldier’s Story: Hope for Israel’s Future” on Nov. 14 at 7:15 p.m. at Temple Beth Torah, 320 Shallow Dr. in Humble. Rabbi Hammer is an American-born rabbi who made aliyah and was a chaplain, educator and motivational speaker for the IDF.

“Although I wasn’t involved in combat during Operation Cast Lead,” said Rabbi Hammer, “I found there was a tremendous involvement by soldiers who were religiously observant. They really emerged as the main ideological voice during that war. The old role of the elite soldier played by secular Israelis has changed. What you see in the IDF is that religious observant youth are working their way up the ladder of promotion. And, a large part of the voice of Zionist ideology today emanates from religious institutions. Secular Zionism is going through a period of soul-searching and is having a difficult time preserving [its] ideology. Having religious observance behind it gives Zionist ideology strength and direction.”

In the U.S., Rabbi Hammer would be classified as modern Orthodox. He’s a member of the National Religious camp in Israel. That puts him in favor of the Plessner Committee proposal to slash military service exemptions to Haredim (Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community). The proposal, which would not go into effect until 2016, has been tabled.

“Just the fact that it was brought to the table is a victory,” said Rabbi Hammer. “The subject [of Haredim serving in the military] was a taboo that was not spoken about for many years. It wasn’t passed as a law, but that it was discussed openly is a step in the right direction.

“Religious Zionists strongly disagree with the Haredi platform. We believe everyone should be drafted and give their time and service to the people. The reality is the army could not use all of the Haredim, even if all of them agreed to be drafted tomorrow. The dream is that everyone takes responsibility and recognizes their role in protecting the future of the country.

“Religious Zionists look at the land of Israel as something G-d promised our forefathers. We see the development of the land and the establishment of the modern state as being part and parcel of G-d’s master plan to redeem the Jewish people and usher in their salvation. We view the land of Israel and the government of Israel as necessary steps to facilitating the redemption of the Jewish nation. And, that is why service to the country and the people is met with passion.”

Rabbi Hammer said his parents sent him to religious Zionist institutions in Israel. But, until he made aliyah 23 years ago, he didn’t really appreciate how religious Zionism is the only force that can connect Torah, the Jewish people and the Jewish land.

He offers this analogy: “When you visit someone’s house and something goes awry, it bothers you but doesn’t disturb you. When it happens in your own home, it becomes personal.”

“People who live in Israel take things personally,” he continued. “That’s where the rudeness, insolence and chutzpah come from. But, it is those same characteristics that allow us to survive. There are ways Israelis behave that I find disturbing. But, these characteristics are what I represent at this point. That’s where my allegiance is. I’ve lived here almost 23 years.

“What American Jews really don’t understand about Israelis – even Jews who have a kinship to Israel – is how reality in Israel slaps you across the face. Not until you live here and until your children are drafted into the army can you begin to understand what this country is about. Only then, can you become a part of the pulse of this country.

“Although there is a divide between the secular and the religious in this country, the IDF serves as an impetus toward understanding, camaraderie and unity. When there’s a war, nobody cares if you’re wearing a kippah or a Mohawk. At the end of the day, you want to make sure everybody is safe and sound.

“I have six kids. My eldest, Bracha, is 21. She just finished serving two years of national service. It wasn’t the army, but I was very proud. You feel that you raised your child to understand she needs to give back to a country that cares for her.”

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