The Israel Defense Forces suffered more casualties during the Yom Kippur War because the number of yeshiva students studying Torah in those days had decreased, Israel's Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger said Thursday, in comments that caused an uproar within the IDF.
Metzger was speaking at a military ceremony in Jerusalem to celebrate the appointment of his son-in-law, Rabbi Shimshon Klein, as the IDF's next head of the Shahar project, a program that aims to integrate ultra-Orthodox soldiers into the IDF.
Metzger pointed out that when he was stationed on the Syrian front during the Yom Kippur War he noticed that when religious study halls were sparsely attended the number of IDF casualties increased.
"When Jews sit and study Torah in the yeshivas it gives strength; but when yeshiva attendance is low, as on holiday evenings or prior to the Sabbath, more IDF soldiers are injured and killed," Metzger said.
An IDF official in attendance said that Metzger's comments should not have been made at an IDF ceremony, and that the chief rabbi should have understood that such sentiments aren’t accepted in the army because they can be offensive to the bereaved families, even if unintentionally.
Referring to the nullification by the Supreme Court of the controversial Tal Law (which failed at boosting military service participation among haredi men), the chief rabbi said that the solution should be to recognize the contributions of yeshiva students as part of the force that defends the people of Israel.
"We stand before a difficult period," he said. "There are many branches of the military; I believe that just as there are paratroopers and tank units, there must be a God Corps that protects us."
Following the comments, Metzger's bureau said: "What the rabbi said was nothing new. The Torah is the defender and savior of our people."