Avichai Rontzki

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Avichai Rontzki
Avichai Rontzki.jpg
Born(1951-10-10)October 10, 1951
Haifa, Israel
DiedApril 1, 2018(2018-04-01) (aged 66)
AllegianceIsrael
Service/branchIsrael Defense Forces
Years of service1969–2010
RankBrigadier General
UnitMilitary Rabbinate
Commands heldCommander of the Military Rabbinate
Other workRosh Yeshiva of Itamar

Avichai Rontzki (Hebrew: אביחי רונצקי, October 10, 1951 – April 1, 2018) was an Israeli Chief Military Rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces. He served in the position from 2006 to 2010, with a rank of Brigadier General. His predecessor in that position was Rabbi Israel Weiss. Rontzki was also the rosh yeshiva of the Hesder Yeshiva in the West Bank settlement Itamar.

Biography[edit]

Rontzki was born to a secular Jewish family and studied at the Hebrew Reali School in Haifa.[1] He became religious while serving in the army. In 1969, he began his military career in Shayetet 13, but did not complete the training course and transferred to the 35th Paratroopers Brigade. He completed squad leader course and Officer Candidate School, and returned to the Paratroopers Brigade to serve as a platoon leader and as company Executive officer at the 890 "Efe" (Echis) paratroop battalion. Later on, he transferred to Sayeret Shaked and served as a company commander in the Yom Kippur War.[2] During this time, he began a process of repentance with his wife Ronit, who he had met in his unit. Rontzki studied at Machon Meir and Mercaz HaRav, and also was involved with instructing street kids in Jerusalem. In 1980, he established the Hesder Yeshiva in Elon Moreh. In 1984, he was part of the group that established the settlement Itamar near Nablus, and he also founded the Hesder yeshiva there.

Rontzki wrote a four volume army halakhic guide K'Hitzim B'Yad Gibor. In addition to his rosh yeshiva position, he continued to serve in the reserves, and rose in rank to the position of chief of staff of the Samaria Territorial Brigade (Hebrew: חטיבה מרחבית שומרון‎).

After being offered the position of Chief Military Rabbi, many advised him to decline due to the Military Rabbinate collaboration with Israel's unilateral disengagement plan, of which the military played a primary part.

After assuming command of the Chief Rabbinate in 2006, Rontzki initiated a mini-revolution in the command. In addition to the traditional rabbinate activities of kitchen kosher certification and religious services for religious soldiers, Rontzki expanded the mandate to include a more active role in the army, including increasing the number of battalion rabbis.[3]

"During the war, it became clear that there is a significant gap between the number of positions available to rabbis in various units and their actual manning by military rabbis."

In December 2014, after it became clear that the Knesset's coalition would dissolve and new elections would be called, Rontzi announced he expected to run in the primaries for Bayit Yehudi's list.[4]

In April 1, 2018, he passed away after a struggle with colorectal cancer.[5] He left behind a wife, six children and grandchildren.

Controversies[edit]

Rontzki expanded the "Jewish Awareness Department", which conducts educational activities in IDF combat units.[6] He gave Torah classes in jails, and conducted a tour of Hebron for soldiers in Military Intelligence in which they met with Rabbi Dov Lior. An Israeli settler accused of assaulting and wounding Palestinians spent his house arrest in Rontzki's home.[7] In a letter he sent to officers in the Military Rabbinate in October 2008, he wrote that, "There is a crucial need to connect [the] soldiers with their roots and Jewish values", and that IDF rabbis are supposed to be involved in inculcating Jewish values.[8] He attempted to force the Israel Army Radio to stop broadcasting on Shabbat to come in line with the standard army order permitting only operational duty on the holy day.[9]

During Operation Cast Lead, the army rabbinate under Rontzki's lead had a more significant presence on the field than traditional to the rabbinate. The rabbinate provided a text titled "Daily Torah studies for the soldier and the commander in Operation Cast Lead" to soldiers and officers, which was criticized as being overtly nationalist and political, to the point of racism, and encouraging violations of international law regarding the treatment of enemy civilians.[10]

Rontzki stated that religious troops make better soldiers, and that those who show mercy towards the enemy in wartime will be damned for it.[11]

Rontzki objects to women serving in combat units, and believes that it is impractical and harmful to the "combat array". He expressed doubt that women would want to serve the full service as men serve. In addition, he revealed that a female Religion Officer would join the Military Rabbinate for the first time to serve the needs of religious women soldiers.[12] His attitude towards women soldiers has been criticised by several Knesset members, who demanded that Rontzki be dismissed from his post as IDF's chief rabbi.[13]

The Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din called on Defense Minister Ehud Barak to immediately remove Rontzki from his post as chief military rabbi, due to his conduct during Operation Cast Lead.[10] MK Ophir Pines-Paz asked Barak to order an immediate investigation into the activities of the military rabbinate. Pines-Paz wrote that "The article gives cause for concern", and that "The [military] rabbinate is overstepping its authority, which is solely to provide religious services, and is acting in an aggressive manner in order to cause Israel Defense Forces soldiers to become religiously observant. This activity undermines religious-secular relations in the IDF and leads the army into dealing with areas beyond its scope. It uses the IDF to advance religious and political ideas. The [military] rabbinate is bringing religion in through the back door, in a dangerous manner, and harming the IDF's ability to fulfill its mission".[9]

In December 2009, it was reported that Defense Minister of Israel Ehud Barak and Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi will not extend Rontzki's service past the summer of 2010.[14] In January 2010, Rafi Peretz was appointed to succeed Rontzki as chief military rabbi in summer 2010.[15]

Referring to the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange, Rontzki said in an interview to Arutz Sheva in October 2011 that Israeli soldiers should no longer arrest convicted terrorists, but instead "kill them in their beds".[16]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Official IDF Rabbinate website". IDF. April 12, 2010.
  2. ^ Jeremy Sharon, Former IDF chief rabbi Avihai Rontzki dies aged 67, The Jerusalem Post, April 1, 2018.
  3. ^ "Keeping the Faith". IDF Spokesperson's Unit. August 19, 2007. Archived from the original on August 27, 2009. Retrieved April 21, 2009.
  4. ^ "Azulay, Moran 'Former Chief IDF Rabbi to run in Bayit Yehudi primaries: Months after being dismissed following accusations of passing classified information to Naftali Bennett, rabbi wants to be on Bennett's list for Knesset.' (Dec 7, 2014) YNET"http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4600253,00.html
  5. ^ "Baruch, Hizki 'Rabbi Avihai Rontzki passed away.' (Apr 1, 2018) ARUTZ 7"https://www.inn.co.il/News/News.aspx/369887
  6. ^ Harel, Amos (October 23, 2008). "Israel military rabbi under fire for 'brainwashing' soldiers". Haaretz. Archived from the original on May 28, 2009. Retrieved April 21, 2009.
  7. ^ Harel, Amos. "Rabbinate without borders". Haaretz. Retrieved April 21, 2009.
  8. ^ Harel, Amos (November 17, 2008). "Chief IDF rabbi: Army rabbinate needs to inculcate Jewish values". Haaretz. Archived from the original on April 18, 2009. Retrieved April 21, 2009.
  9. ^ a b Harel, Amos. "Labor MK demands IDF be investigated for alleged proselytizing". Haaretz. Retrieved April 21, 2009.
  10. ^ a b Harel, Amos (January 26, 2009). "IDF rabbinate publication during Gaza war: We will show no mercy on the cruel". Haaretz. Archived from the original on April 1, 2009. Retrieved April 21, 2009.
  11. ^ Pfeffer, Anshel (November 15, 2009). "IDF Chief Rabbi: Troops who show mercy to enemy will be 'damned'". Haaretz. Archived from the original on June 16, 2010. Retrieved July 11, 2010.
  12. ^ Ronen, Gil (December 12, 2007). "IDF's Chief Rabbi Opposes Women in Combat Units". Israel National News. Retrieved April 21, 2009.
  13. ^ Pfeffer, Anshel (February 7, 2009). "Angry MKs demand top IDF rabbi ousted for comments on women". Haaretz. Retrieved April 5, 2011.
  14. ^ "Rabbi Rontzky Will Finish Tenure in Summer". Israel National News (in Hebrew). December 29, 2009. Archived from the original on January 2, 2010. Retrieved December 29, 2009.
  15. ^ Pfeffer, Anshel (January 27, 2010). "Rafi Peretz named as new chief rabbi of IDF, replacing Avihai Rontzki". Haaretz. Retrieved October 20, 2011.
  16. ^ Levinson, Chaim (October 17, 2011). "Israeli soldiers should kill terrorists 'in their beds' following Shalit deal, former IDF rabbi says". Haaretz. Retrieved October 19, 2011.
  • Segal, Arnon, "Sitter of Tents", Olam Katan, Issue 198, April 8, 2009 (in Hebrew)