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