Believers in the Police

May 2, 2015 by

Clipart_Police Force“Believers in the Police” Is the Hesder Yeshiva of the Israeli Police Force, Infusing Faith, Ethics, and Compassion Where None Existed

There is no institution in Israel which carries more approval from the citizens of the country than the Israeli Defense Forces, an army which is viewed by the vast majority of Israelis and their supporters throughout the world as the planet’s most ethical fighting force. By contrast, there is almost no organization in Israel which engenders less admiration than the country’s police force. Throughout the country, the Mishteret Yisrael is viewed as uncaring at best. Many Israelis, whether on the political right or left, describe the police as abusive, corrupt, inept, and immoral.

But if Uriel Cohen has his way, that image will be changing. As CEO of the new Maaminim B’Mishtara, “Believers in the Police,” Mr. Cohen is rapidly instituting a system to recruit highly skilled and ethical candidates culled from the ranks of the Israeli-Orthodox community.

The double-entendre in the name of the organization is intentional. Mr. Cohen said the goal is to invigorate the public’s belief in the efficacy, ethics, and integrity of the country’s police force by bringing to its ranks Orthodox, G-d-fearing policemen who believe it is their duty to serve the Jewish state well.

Future Commanders

Mr. Cohen, who will be in the US this month to discuss the new program, notes that, in recent months, no fewer than seven senior Israeli police commanders have either been dismissed or forced to resign due to allegations of serious moral violations.

“As insiders, we have long been aware that such problems existed, but now the issue has reached the attention of the media, which is having a field day with it,” he said.

He is convinced the police officers who come through the Maaminim B’Mishtara program will change not only the police force, but the way the public views law enforcement in Israel.

“We are developing the commanders of the future for the Israeli Police, policemen who come from the beit midrash and who know that our moral level is of the utmost importance to the Jewish people in general and to the police in particular,” he said.

Forged in Amona

Forged in combination with top police officials as well as the Internal Security Ministry, and blessed with the haskamas of many Israeli rabbis, Maaminim B’Mishtara was conceived originally by Nachi Eyal, director-general of the Legal Forum for Israel.

Mr. Eyal began thinking about the need to reform the Israeli police in the winter 2006, after then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sent members of the Yassam police to destroy the community of Amona, a hilltop outpost near Ramallah that the government said had been built without official approval. Supporters of Amona said the government had shown its approval by allowing the community to be connected to the water and electrical grids.

Nevertheless, the violence displayed by the police in Amona in February of that year convinced many Israelis that what transpired was nothing less than a police riot by a band of thugs.

Wounding Citizens

When the police arrived on horseback, they found some 5,000 unarmed right-wing demonstrators, mostly religious teenage boys and girls, who were determined to sit peacefully in the homes designated for destruction. Although the police tried to break cameras and destroy all photographic evidence of the brutality visited on the youngsters, some surreptitious films were taken, showing officers who had removed their name tags beating youngsters and even trampling them with horses.

There are pictures of police officers on horseback charging into groups of protesters on the ground and beating them back with batons. The police also fired water cannons, soaking many of the rooftop protesters on a cold winter’s day. There were reports that some of the young girls were threatened and actually groped by officers.

Among those most severely injured at Amona were two right-wing MKs, Effi Eitam, who was taken to the hospital with a bleeding head wound, and Aryeh Eldad, who suffered a broken arm. Mr. Eyal’s 15-year-old son, Yechiam, was beaten unconscious by a policeman and brought to Hadassah hospital by ambulance.

Behavior Unbecoming

While the boy was comatose in the hospital, Mr. Eyal and his wife stayed constantly at his bedside, except for a few hours when their older son, then serving in the IDF, came to take their place. Many hospital officials said they were “beyond moved” at the sight of the young IDF officer sitting by his comatose younger brother.

But that sentiment was not shared by a police officer who happened to arrive at the hospital while the older brother was sitting with Yechiam. When told by a reporter that the younger boy had been wounded at Amona, the policeman loudly declared, “He should have died.”

The policeman’s comment remained with Mr. Eyal long after Yechiam regained consciousness the next morning and eventually left the hospital. The fact that an Israeli law-enforcement official could make such a remark about a child convinced Mr. Eyal that existing conditions in police recruitment and training had to change.

Part of the Solution

He learned to his amazement that only 6,000 of Israel’s 29,000 police officers were even considered “traditional” in terms of religious practice. Only seven percent identified as observant. By contrast, a full 50 percent of the IDF’s officers identify as Orthodox.

The same thoughts on changing the police force in Israel were occurring to Mr. Cohen, who had run the hesder yeshiva in Eilat for nine years and had recently taken over the management of the hesder yeshiva in Tel Aviv. In hesder yeshivot, which are greatly admitted in Israel, young men combine Torah study with IDF training and terms of duty.

“After I heard what had happened in Amona, I realized the IDF is just part of the security puzzle in Israel. We in the dati community need to be part of the solution to taking care of security inside the state and not just at the borders. We must deal not just with the enemy outside, but also with the community inside the state, especially those who are in danger of being caught up in the cycle of violence and criminality. We need to become part of the police force, just as we are part of the IDF,” said Mr. Cohen.

Finding Candidates

Three years ago, Mr. Eyal and Mr. Cohen met and quickly realized that their thinking on this issue matched. They then brought in Rabbi Rami Brachyahu, the spiritual leader of the Samarian community of Talmon, to serve as the head of the new Maaminim B’Mishtara beit midrash. Based in Tel Aviv, it is charged with turning out religious, knowledgeable police officers, filled with Jewish spirit and ready to join the force.

Their first task was finding suitable candidates. Maaminim B’Mishtara looks for religious IDF soldiers, ages 22-32, who have finished their tours of duty. Most of them have been through pre-military yeshiva study and training and then have participated in a hesder yeshiva program.

Unsurprisingly, most Maaminim B’Mishtara candidates are from the national-religious community, which, Mr. Cohen said, is perfect for the goal of bringing to the police force the “Jewish mindset and Israeli spirit found in the IDF.”

He hopes soon to recruit more members of the hareidi and Ethiopian-Jewish communities as well.

Training and Halacha

Upon joining the Maaminim B’Mishtara program, recruits spend two years combining regular police basic training with Torah study, focusing on the relevant halacha and ethics necessary to become a model police officer.

While the typical Israeli police program requires five years before candidates can qualify as police officers, the specialized Maaminim B’Mishtara program manages to prepare its students in two.

According to Mr. Cohen, the similarity between the hesder yeshiva system and Maaminim B’Mishtara is by no means coincidental. “We are looking to produce the best of the best, police officers who are ethical, well-trained, and come with a strong sense of duty and commitment to the community. They have already served the country with pride in the IDF, and they bring a sense of nationalism and religious and ethical integrity to the police force,” he said.

To date, Maaminim B’Mishtara has produced 60 policemen who are currently serving throughout the country. The organization’s goal is to supply 500 new religious police officers to the Israeli force over the next six years.

Feeling Their Presence

As a result, an increasing number of police stations now have at least one member of the Orthodox community on the force, and, according to Mr. Cohen, their presence can be felt in many ways, large and small.

For example, crude language, long considered routine in most police venues, is heard much less often in those station houses with members of Maaminim B’Mishtara. Kashruth, which is supposed to be observed in all Israeli installations, has been practiced much more in the breech by the police. But with the arrival of a member of Maaminim B’Mishtara, extra attention is paid to the dietary laws.

Like soldiers’ duties, police work is often considered pikuach nefesh, necessary to save a life and, therefore, permissible and even mandatory on Shabbat and holidays. So it is no more surprising to find a member of Maaminim B’Mishtara at work on Shabbat than it would be to find a soldier with a kippah doing what is necessary in the field. But just as army bases provide services, Kiddush, and Shabbat meals, so, too, are these now available and enjoyed in many police stations.

Working Together

And not just by the Orthodox. According to Mr. Cohen, as a result of the influence of Maaminim B’Mishtara, the desire to be closer to Judaism is catching on among many non-Orthodox police officers. Some of them now regularly call on Rabbi Brachyahu for guidance, especially as it pertains to police work.

While some of the questions posed to the rabbi concern actions—can a cat be extricated from a tree on Shabbat? (the answer was no, unless there was some possibility of danger to people if the cat remained up there)—increasingly, there are ethical and moral dilemmas that must be explored.

“There are halachic rules for how a prisoner can be interrogated and officers must know the halachic parameters,” said Mr. Cohen.

Learning Together

Because of Maaminim B’Mishtara, many non-Orthodox police officers are studying ethics alongside their more religious colleagues, he said.

“It’s not unusual to hear policemen who have Maaminim B’Mishtara colleagues, quoting from the booklets on halacha prepared by Rabbi Brachyahu. They are learning and relearning what it means to be a police officer in the land of Israel,” said Mr. Cohen.

As part of the program, Rabbi Brachyahu makes routine visits to station houses, asking and answering questions and giving lectures which are attended by a wide variety of police officers, religious and not. He is now preparing a book of halacha to be used by all members of the Israeli Police Force, and it will include a curriculum on ethics.

Proper Direction

While Mr. Cohen does not expect to see dramatic changes in the Israeli police force overnight, he said there is already evidence that things are moving in a more positive direction.

For example, the infusion of ethics and compassion that are part and parcel of the Maaminim B’Mishtara program is expected to have an impact on police work with at-risk youngsters and in situations of domestic abuse. Mr. Cohen believes that when police serve as proper role models, it can have a salubrious effect on the entire community, especially youngsters who show early signs of delinquency.

“We need to show young people how to behave, not send them to jail. Sending them to jail is like sending them to a school for criminals,” said Mr. Cohen.

One of the unintended consequences of bringing religious and non-religious police officers together is that, in many cases, positive relationships have been fostered between these two groups who, under normal circumstances, would never see each other, let alone work together, especially in an environment that most Israelis see as aggressive and brutal.

Rabbi Brachyahu calls it “a beautiful partnership, bringing something G-dly into something that has historically functioned as not G-dly.”


Like any new project in Israel, Maaminim B’Mishtara’s problem is funding. First and foremost, there are salaries. Police recruits are paid 65 percent of the regular police salary while they are in training. And the rabbis who train them must also be paid. Rabbi Brachyahu and Mr. Cohen are already looking for additional rabbinic students to study complex police issues in order to address them in textbooks and in classes.

Mr. Cohen hopes Maaminim B’Mishtara’s website will be up and functioning very soon. Until then, he can be reached at

One of Maaminim B’Mishtara’s earliest supporters has been Rabbi Pesach Lerner, the former director of National Council of Young Israel who now serves as the group’s vice-president emeritus. According to Rabbi Lerner, even the small routine police functions carried out by Maaminim B’Mishtara recruits will have “a major ripple effect impacting Israeli society, transforming the Israeli police force, and providing new opportunities for the Israeli-religious community.”

“It is important that a Torah presence be part of the national police force so that all parts of society can see the beauty and ethical behavior of Torah as they interact with policemen,” he said.