Rabbi Avichai Ron­sky, Former Chief IDF Chap­lain, Dies at 66

The Jewish Voice - - ISRAEL - By: Andrew Fried­man

Former IDF Chief Rabbi Avichai Ron­sky died Sun­day fol­low­ing a long bat­tle with can­cer. He was 66. Ron­sky was born to a sec­u­lar fam­ily in Haifa in 1951 but be­came ob­ser­vant dur­ing his teenage years. Fol­low­ing his manda­tory mil­i­tary ser­vice he stud­ied at a range of re­li­gious Zion­ist yeshivas in Jerusalem, cul­mi­nat­ing at the Merkaz Harav yeshiva where he came un­der the in­flu­ence of Rabbi Tzvi Ye­huda Kook, the founder of the yeshiva and the son of Rabbi Avra­ham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of Pales­tine.

Af­ter re­ceiv­ing rab­binic or­di­na­tion, Ron­sky be­came an ac­tive sup­port of Jewish com­mu­ni­ties in Judea and Sa­maria, help­ing es­tab­lish Alon Moreh in 1980 and Ita­mar in 1984.

As chief mil­i­tary chap­lain Ron­sky was no stranger to con­tro­versy. He over­saw the ex­pan­sion of the rab­binate's role in the army from over­see­ing kosher reg­u­la­tions in IDF kitchens to pro­vid­ing more tra­di­tional chap­laincy roles, in­clud­ing pas­toral care and To­rah lessons for com­bat units, a move that won praise from Ortho­dox cir­cles and crit­i­cism from sec­u­lar quar­ters. In De­cem­ber, 2009 then-Chief of Staff Gabi Ashke­nazi an­nounced that he would not ex­tend Ron­sky's ten­ure as chief rabbi of the IDF, and ap­pointed Rabbi Rafi Peretz to suc­ceed Ron­sky the fol­low­ing sum­mer.

Later, dur­ing the 2014 Op­er­a­tion Pro­tec­tive Edge, Ron­sky was ac­cused of pass­ing clas­si­fied in­tel­li­gence to then-Econ­omy Min­is­ter Naf­tali Ben­nett and banned from the Is­rael-Gaza bor­der area dur­ing the fight­ing.

Fol­low­ing leav­ing the mil­i­tary Ron­sky re­turned to Ita­mar to serve as head of the yeshiva there, even­tu­ally gain­ing no­to­ri­ety in the re­li­gious Zion­ist world as a lead­ing author­ity on the de­tails of Jewish law (ha­lacha) as they ap­ply to IDF sol­diers, and es­pe­cially to IDF chap­lains. Fol­low­ing crit­i­cism that he had vi­o­lated Shab­bat in or­der to ac­com­pany com­bat troops (nor­ma­tive Jewish law al­lows for the vi­o­la­tion of Shab­bat re­stric­tions only in or­der to save a life, some­thing that would or­di­nar­ily ap­ply to com­bat troops but not to the unit chap­lain), Ron­sky said “my ap­proach to this stems from my un­der­stand­ing of the rabbi's role in a unit… the unit rabbi's prin­ci­pal job is to give strength to the com­bat sol­diers. This shot in the arm is vi­tal and crit­i­cal for win­ning a bat­tle be­cause as we know, pur­su­ing an en­emy and the great­ness of the soul do not come nat­u­rally, es­pe­cially not to our young sol­diers.

“A rabbi who par­tic­i­pates in the unit's train­ing ex­er­cises and op­er­a­tional du­ties can re­ally help them over­come the in­ner trauma and crises that are com­mon un­der such cir­cum­stances,” Ron­sky


Former De­fense Min­is­ter Moshe Ya'alon said he had known Ron­sky be­fore the lat­ter had be­come a rabbi, and praised him as a per­son who “saw him­self as a emis­sary on be­half of the Jewish peo­ple and the State of Is­rael.”

Knes­set Speaker Yoel (Yuli) Edel­stein added that Ron­sky had been a brave ground­breaker as chief mil­i­tary rabbi and a man of mercy.

“His per­son­al­ity and the legacy he gave to thou­sands of stu­dents will con­tinue to ac­com­pany them as they spread his teach­ings. May his mem­ory be blessed,” Edel­stein said.

Former IDF Chief Rabbi Avichai Ron­sky died Sun­day fol­low­ing a long bat­tle with can­cer. He was 66.

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