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In Israeli army, rabbis deepen religious tone. Is that kosher?

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Beyond love of country, the core values of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) stress human dignity, life, and purity of arms – concepts meant to restrain force against noncombatants as well as proportionality.

But Chen said that "we should remember that this war is not just a regular war. It's the war of the children of light against the children of darkness.... My first interpretation was that we are fighting a messianic war," says M., a reserve combat medic who hails from an Orthodox Jewish community in a West Bank settlement. "For me, that completely contradicts the codes of war I learned as a young soldier. Those ideals were dear to me."

Pamphlet urged soldiers to show no mercy to 'cruel'

Soon after the war, the liberal Haaretz newspaper published excerpts from a pamphlet available in military synagogues that featured quotes from rabbinical scholars who argued that Palestinians were tantamount to foreigners and that soldiers should show no mercy to "the cruel."

The pamphlet was printed by the rabbinate's department for "Jewish awareness," a new unit set up by Rontzki to help with outreach.

To be sure, Israel is not the only country where military chaplains discuss battlefield morals and the justification of war. In the United Kingdom, military clergy lead discussions about war crimes and international conventions on war, says Tel Aviv University professor Asa Kasher, author of "The IDF Spirit," a code of military ethics.

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