Mar 282012

Yeshiva World News ran a short article on an IDF decision to stop issuing olive green tzitzit garments at no charge to religious soldiers. Readers submitted a number of interesting remarks, which I’d like to comment on here. Forgive me if I indulge in a bit of editorializing.

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“A talis koton is supposed to be white anyway, to match the colour of the [tzitzit] strings. This is in Shulchon Oruch. It’s not a hard and fast requirement, green is not possul, but it’s the way it’s supposed to be. So why would the [IDF] Rabbinate have promoted a green version instead of insisting that white be allowed? What rational purpose does banning white serve?”

Actually there is a “rational purpose” to olive green tzitzit. If an IDF soldier is in the crosshairs of an enemy combatant’s gun, G-d forbid, a bit of white cloth will help the shooter take aim, and if he hasn’t been spotted, an inch of white could make the difference. I know of elite IDF units that take camouflage techniques very seriously for special night operations. In other words, in certain cases wearing an olive green tzitzit garment really is a matter of pikuach nefesh (life and death).

An olive green tallit katan with white tzitzit

Courtesy of American Friends of the IDF Rabbinate

One might say, “But if it really is pikuach nefesh, then the tzitzit strings should not be white either.” Yes, but you can always tuck in the tzitzit if necessary, and many Sephardic soldiers keep their tzitzit tucked in to begin with.

According to another comment posted, “Why do they need to pay for the tzitzit? I just don’t get it. I don’t mean anything negative here – uniform, weapons, military stuff fine – [but] religious articles…?”

I have two answers for that: One is that since ostensibly the IDF is a Jewish army, giving out tzitzit is perfectly reasonable. You could even argue that it is a must, and is part and parcel of outfitting a Jewish army. One commenter asked rhetorically, “So what else that’s essential to the soldiers’ security are they thinking of cutting? Access to IDF-supplied guns and ammunition?”

Of course the next question would be, “So why doesn’t the IDF provide kippahs?” During the IDF induction ceremony, every soldier receives a Tanach (Druze soldiers receive a Koran), so it makes sense to provide the means to keep what that Tanach says a Jew should do.

The second answer is that since finding an olive drab tzitzit garment is fairly difficult, the army should take care of it. And if the IDF is not efficient enough to handle the task, I know of someone who could take up the slack: Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Grossman of Migdal Ha’emek (a.k.a. The Disco Rabbi). has an amazing story about how he was able to fill in the logistical gap when the IDF fell short during the Second Lebanon War.

One problem that nobody mentioned is that although olive green tzitzit garments are available, what is an IDF soldier to do if he is stringent to wear a wool tallit katan? This is fairly common among Sephardic soldiers.

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