IDF Chaplain, Rabbi Dr. Tsuriel Rashi: Probing Media, Judaism & Ethics

As associate director of the Center for Media and Religion in BIU's School of Communication, Rabbi Dr. Tsuriel Rashi is generally focused on mass media ("a major social agent in our lives," he says), professional ethics (for example in the military, education, and police) and Judaism. But during Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, he found himself in his “other” role: IDF chaplain of the Golani Infantry Brigade.

Receiving an emergency call-up notice, the Captain (Res.) donned fatigues and spent 35 days in Gaza, attending to the troops' spiritual needs – be it prayer books, tefillin, or doling out miniature challot to soldiers in armored personnel carriers before Shabbat.  A more difficult but critical responsibility was ensuring that the fallen were properly evacuated from the battlefield, positively identified and brought to rest, relates Rashi, who holds a ribbon for taking part in the Second Lebanon War.

"In the first 24 hours following the onset of the ground operation, there were casualties almost every 30 minutes," he recalls.  "After about 36 hours the physical and emotional strain was immense, especially when I discovered that a former student of mine (whom I had just seen) had been killed in combat."

The Hesder yeshiva grad, who received semicha from Rabbi Haim Drukman (head of Yeshivot Bnei Akiva) and Shoham Chief Rabbi David Stav, found it "gratifying to meet up with my past students who are now serving in key positions in Golani and other military units."

In civilian life, he also chairs the Department of Mass Communications at Herzog College of Education (where he obtained his BA, cum laude). An alumnus of BIU's Division of Journalism & Mass Communication, he holds an MA in political studies & mass communications and was a Doctoral Fellow of Excellence at the university, writing his dissertation on "Media, Judaism and Ethics: The Public's 'Duty to Know' in Jewish Law." He says that "at BIU, I acquired knowledge, learned what research excellence is, and gained understanding of academic management."

Rashi was commissioned by the Israeli Ministry of Education to develop an instructional program on Judaism and communications for the national religious school system, which is now part of the curricula. He also chaired the committee that reshapes the communications, cinema, and theater studies curricula in Israel’s religious high schools and colleges.

As a post-doctoral fellow at Tel-Aviv University, he worked with Philosophy Prof. (Emeritus) Asa Kasher, Vice Chair of the Jerusalem Center for Ethics, co-authoring a book, Hebrew Ethics:  Professional Ethics in Judaism. Rashi has also written book chapters and articles, and presented papers at professional conferences abroad on such subjects as the Jewish perspective of freedom of speech and interfaith dialogue, Israel's Ultra-Orthodox community and modern media, journalistic ethics codes vs. Jewish law, the media's evolving influence on Jewish responsa regarding the freeing of agunot, and media memory agenda and holocaust denial. He teaches rhetoric and public speaking as well as professional ethics in academic institutions and programs at the IDF, Israeli police, the Prime Minister's Office and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense.

Noting the "huge difference between halakhic and ethical attitudes toward information-sharing with a journalist," he says that according to Jewish law, "a conversation is off-record unless the source told you specifically otherwise, whereas the opposite is true with regard to the journalistic ethical code."

Aspiring to impact the public discourse and ethical conduct in diverse fields, Rabbi Dr. Rashi imparts: "Today I mainly focus on professional and Jewish ethics and not just on communication. I view it as my mission to connect these two worlds which are so close to my heart."
For more on Dr. Rashi click here.