In many modern armies the religious soldier is suspect. Civilians and officers alike wonder if such a soldier might represent a potential fifth column. This concern is especially prominent in the public discourse over the presence of religious Orthodox Jews serving in the Israel Defense Forces. Will they obey their commanding officer or their rabbi? With research collected over almost a decade, including hundreds of hours of interviews, Elisheva Rosman examines this question of loyalties and reveals how religious soldiers negotiate a place for themselves in an institution whose goals and norms sometimes conflict with those of Orthodox Judaism.
For God and Country? focuses on the pre-service study programs available to religious conscripts. Many journalists and scholars in Israel are suspicious of the student-soldiers who participate in these programs, but in fact, as Rosman’s research demonstrates, the pre-service study programs serve as mediating structures between the demands of Religious Zionism and the demands of the Israel Defense Forces and do not encourage their students to disobey orders. This was especially apparent during the disengagement from Gaza in 2005. Many in Israeli society predicted student-soldiers would defy their orders, per the instruction of their religious leaders, but this did not happen as expected. In high profile cases such as this and in matters encountered daily by religious soldiers—the mixing of the sexes, for instance—Rosman has discovered that the pre-service study programs can successfully serve as agents of civil society, both able to curb the military’s efforts to meddle in civilian affairs and vice versa.