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On the Frontlines with Rabbi Shlomo Sobol

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol, rav of Kehillat Shaarei Yonah Menachem in the Buchman neighborhood of Modiin, leads a congregation comprised of some 350 families with roughly 200 soldiers. Jewish Action asked him to share some of the questions he’s received from his congregants who have been drafted over the past few months. Rabbi Sobol, who attended Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav and received semichah from Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, will often refer more challenging she’eilot to Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, Rabbi Asher Weiss or Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl.

I received quite a few requests for assistance from farmers in the South whose workers were drafted; without help, their crops were going to be ruined. We helped these farmers recruit volunteers, but we realized that some of the farmers were then selling the produce directly to consumers (leaving out the middleman) without taking terumot and ma’asrot. I suggested to the volunteers that they offer to separate terumot u’ma’asrot. In many cases it didn’t work. It was a challenging situation because we wanted to help the farmers, but at the same time we didn’t want people to eat produce from which terumot u’ma’asrot were not taken. I told community members that every time they buy produce from the North or the South (from a farmer or stand and not from a store), they must separate terumot u’ma’asrot themselves. 

One of the more interesting questions that came up involved a soldier who was concerned about worrying his parents. He asked: “Am I allowed to lie to my parents and tell them I’m not in Gaza, even though I am?” I advised him to tell his parents the truth. And I added: “When you tell your parents, you should also get a berachah from them. A berachah from one’s parents is more significant than a berachah from a rebbi.” 

Even in times of war, there are she’eilot involving semachot, joyous occasions. A significant number of soldiers have asked about postponing their weddings. IDF soldiers often get a 24-hour break every few weeks. Soldiers ask me: “Should I get married during a break, or should I wait until after the war is over?” (At the start of the war, people thought it would be over in a few weeks or at most a few months.) Some soldiers ended up having backyard weddings while on leave for a day or two, and then returned to active duty. 

As surprising as it sounds, I always tell engaged couples the same thing: “If you could make the wedding now, do it.” I sit with the kallah (whose chatan is in Gaza) and the two families and discuss it. Not everyone can make a wedding while on 24-hour leave from the army. Of course, in order to get married, one has to be in the right emotional state, so the most important thing is to verify that the kallah and chatan are prepared psychologically and emotionally for getting married in the midst of a war. 

A few soldiers postponed their weddings. But many others did not.  

There are valid reasons for not postponing a wedding. Rabbi Asher Weiss tells a remarkable story emphasizing this point. His rebbe, Rabbi Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam, the Klausenburger Rebbe, who lost his wife and eventually all of his eleven children in the Holocaust, had an eldest son, Lipa. Nineteen-year-old Lipa, an ilui, was the apple of his father’s eye. Tragically, while Lipa did survive the Holocaust, he died of typhoid two weeks after the war ended. The Rebbe was crushed. 

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Meisels, the Veitzener Dayan, who survived the war, shared with Rav Asher an incredible story, which Rav Asher had never heard from the Rebbe: In 1944, Rav Tzvi Hirsch was about to finalize the shidduch of his oldest daughter with the Rebbe’s son Lipa, when the Nazis invaded Hungary. The Rebbe decided to cancel the engagement party, which was scheduled for the following day, and wait for the storm to pass; no one could possibly have envisioned what the future held for Hungarian Jewry. 

After the war, Rabbi Meisels heard that the Rebbe survived and was in the Foehrenwald DP camp. He quickly made his way there to reunite with the Rebbe. The first question the Rebbe asked the Veitzener Dayan was, “Did your daughter survive?” “Yes,” was Rabbi Meisel’s response, “and is Lipa alive?” 

The Rebbe broke down crying and replied that Lipa had died a few weeks earlier. “Perhaps had we finalized that shidduch, the combined merit of two young tzaddikim would have kept Lipa alive.” The Rebbe deeply regretted pushing off the engagement.

For these young soldiers, says Rabbi Asher Weiss, leaving the army for a day or two and getting married is a great zechut. Hopefully, the combined merit of two young people planning to build a bayit ne’eman b’Yisrael will serve as a protection for both of them and enable the soldier to return home safely.

She’eilot have also come from members in our community serving in the Military Rabbinate, the Rabbanut Tzvait, who are involved in identifying and caring for the bodies of the murdered victims. A member [of this unit] told me that one of the most difficult experiences he had was collecting body parts and spilled blood for identification purposes, working for hours at this gut-wrenching job, only to discover later that all that he had collected belonged to a terrorist. 

Another righteous soldier serving in the Rabbanut Tzvait shared with me that before he began this type of work, a psychologist prepared him for what he would encounter. “You have to know that the smell of death is something you might carry with you for the rest of your life,” he told him. This soldier then told me something very powerful. “When I carried the body of a soldier, I didn’t smell death. I sensed the fragrance of Gan Eden.”

Members of the Rabbanut Tzvait asked if they could continue to collect bodies on Shabbat. Under normal circumstances, the answer would have been no. On Shabbat, a dead body is considered muktzah. But in the aftermath of October 7, it was an entirely different situation. For parents, finding out whether their child was alive or not was literally piku’ach nefesh. It was a question of saving lives—the lives of emotionally distraught parents. Additionally, doing such work on Shabbat signified in a powerful way to fellow soldiers that we will work 24/7 to care for their bodies with dignity and respect should something, G-d forbid, happen to them. 

Not surprisingly, I also received a lot of emunah questions—especially from those soldiers who dealt with the bodies. We all know that there is good and evil in this world, and while we all believe that Hashem runs the world, painful, distressing sights are often too much to deal with. I don’t have the answers to those questioning their faith. I hug them. I sit quietly with them. Listening is always critical. I tell them: “We know Hashem is in charge of everything, and we believe in Him, but we are also allowed to complain to Him and to ask Him our questions openly and honestly.” 

At the same time that there are questions, we also clearly see Yad Hashem. Even the very fact that the terrorists were able to do what they did was obviously the Divine Hand at work. It is inexplicable that the IDF—one of the strongest armies in the world—“died” for a few hours. Perhaps Hakadosh Baruch Hu wanted to reveal the strength of Am Yisrael. Many of us are in the habit of complaining about Millennials and Gen Z; the young generations spend so much time on smartphones, and we worry—what will be with them? But these young people suddenly rose up like lions, with mesirut nefesh and a light in their eyes, to defend Am Yisrael, exposing the diamond within the Jewish soul that was concealed all this time. 

This is the ko’ach of Am Yisrael. 

More in this Section

What Does the Torah Have to Say about Military Ethics? by Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Brody

Questions from the Battlefield: Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin speaks with Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon

The Holiest Work: A Conversation with Miriam Neumark Shalev of the IDF Chevra Kadisha’s Women’s Unit by Leah R. Lightman

A Different Kind of Battlefield by Carol Green Ungar


Rabbi Shlomo Sobol received many she’eilot from members in his community serving in the Military Rabbinate, the Rabbanut Tzvait, who are involved in identifying and caring for the bodies of the murdered victims. Photo: Nati Shohat/Flash90

Photo: Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90

This article was featured in the Summer 2024 issue of Jewish Action.
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