Religion as a Resource for Recognition and Freedom: Work, Class, and Religion among NCOs in the IDF
Chen Bram and Shlomo Fischer
This paper discusses the phenomenon of "religionization" among non-commissioned officers in the IDF. NCOs, even though an integral part of the professional army and vital contributors to the IDF's effectiveness, suffer from low status, both in terms of status hierarchies in the IDF and in overall Israeli culture, in which they are often the subject of ridicule. This group also suffers from its subordination to younger, less knowledgeable and experienced officers, and the fact that it is regarded as a provider of labor but not of professional knowledge and judgment.
In this context, we argue that Orthodox Judaism, especially the Mizrahi –Haredi stream, provides an alternative status hierarchy in which NCOs can achieve self-worth, recognition, and status. This view is reinforced by the power and status that the Mizrahi Haredi sector has achieved in Israeli society as a whole. Stressing an Orthodox religious identity has provided recognition within their communities and among younger soldiers. Furthermore, religion offers this group enhanced human fulfillment. The textual study and discussions which take place in religious study sessions offer the NCOs opportunities to discuss values and moral ideas, an area which is restricted to commissioned officers in the military. Religion, in providing autonomous cosmic and social visions, provides "a place to stand" so that one can withdraw from the contemporary capitalist cycles of production-consumerism, critique and oppose them, thus granting a sense of agency and freedom.
The paper concludes by pointing out the limitations of these compensatory status mechanisms insofar they are largely restricted to the Mizrahi milieu.