Soldiers have been the center of debate in recent months after strict rules from the IDF are leading soldiers to shave their beards. Religious IDF soldiers have been forced to shave their beards because they’re not “religious enough,” or the soldiers can face jail time.
IDF soldiers are known for being clean shaven, but there are religious exemptions that allow soldiers to keep their beards.
Orthodox Jews are allowed to keep their facial hair.
Jerusalem has long been known for stylish beards, and the beard trend has led to the rise of HiLee and other companies that cater to the beard trend. There’s also the spiritual journey that many Israelis embrace. But we’re seeing many more grow a beard freely for no other reason than aesthetics and preference.
But in the IDF, I don’t think it’s right that soldiers have faced 20 days in jail for not shaving, although the soldier is said to be “religious.”
The soldier’s mother claims that her son fasts in accordance with religious laws eat only kosher foods and has consulted with a rabbi since his bar mitzva. Despite meeting all of these criteria, the IDF has deemed the soldier as a non-religious person, forcing him to suffer jail time for not shaving.
Soldiers have also been demoted because the IDF doesn’t see them as religious enough to be exempt from shaving their beards.
Tests are sometimes administered to the soldiers, including asking what section of the Torah is being read at the following Shabbat.
IDF spokespersons claim that soldiers have met with rabbis in their units and not granted a permit.
Now, there are debates on all sides. One thought is that beards can be used against soldiers in times of war, allowing the enemy to grasp onto the soldier’s beard. And then there are concerns that some of the equipment may not fit properly if the soldier has a beard. Gas masks, for example, may not fit properly because of a soldier’s beard not allowing the mask to remain airtight.
There are also others that suggest that asking a soldier one question in which they cannot answer doesn’t mean that the person is not religious.
But perhaps we’re just in the middle of a transition that is having a difficult time going to fruition. In 2016, revised rules led to a backlash, and in February 2018, the IDF relaxed some of its restrictions on facial hair for religious soldiers.
The “relaxed” rules were said to allow religious soldiers to keep their beard, but as per the rules, a special permission request must be made. The major change included permission from the military rabbinate rather than the Human Resources Corp, so this is a positive change.
Perhaps the IDF needs to look at how beards impact soldiers and make further revisions which may allow for a more relaxed stance for beards. A standardized test or procedure to determine if a soldier is religious enough may be another possibility, so there are no unjust punishments or jail time for answering one question wrong that the rabbi asks.