The IDF, Israel's military, was established when the State of Israel proclaimed its independence. Being the first Hebrew-speaking army in two-thousand-odd years, some of the words and terms were understandably missing or outdated. Fortunately, the Hebrew language as a whole was being renovated on a massive scale (after a similar period of being in religious use only), so the mechanisms for linguistic innovation were already in place. Words for weapons, military terms, different corps, and the various insignia and ranks all had to be made up. As the army grew, there was room for more ranks, and they had to add some artificial differentiation. Incidentally, Hebrew military slang was also a new development, and is to this day the fastest-changing source of Israeli slang.

Anyway, these are the ranks and their insignia in the IDF, with their official English names, too. English names were chosen (by the powers that be) to approximate the command entrusted to that of Anglophone counterparts of similarly-named rank. However, some details don't translate well - IDF enlisted personnel ranks correspond to some ranks which in the USA and Europe usually refer to an NCO...

Graphics are greyscale ASCII, so to give an idea of colours: Army wear olive (or green) uniforms; stripes are blue-on-white vertically pinstriped, and metal insignia are brass-coloured a with red outlining. Air force and navy wear grey (or blue), with stripes similar to the army, and metal insignia coloured silver and gold, respectively (on blue outlines). The fields on which stripes and metal insignia are displayed are green (army) or blue (airforce and navy).

Enlisted ranks -- hogrim

Everyone (more-or-less) has to do national service for 2-3 years. The rule (with few exceptions) is that you start off a private, and progress, possibly leaving for officer training at some point. Enlisted ranks wear cloth insignia (patches, really) sewn below the shoulder, cut on a slant, with horizontal stripes (pasim) on them. There are really just two words they came up with for enlisted ranks (turai and samal), but with adjectives they form a whole list.

  1. Turai (private). From tur (column). The word conveys something on the lines of "person who makes up the column". Compare "rank and file", I suppose. There's actually no insignia for privates -- just a blank uniform.
  2. Turai rishon (private first class). Literally, "first private". Also abbreviated tarash. Mostly fictitious rank. People who do well or stand out on boot camp might get this rank for a short while, in which case they are supposed to wear a single stripe, but rarely do.
  3. Rabat, acroslang for rav turai (corporal). Rav, in this context, means "great", or "major"; hence, a "private major", someone who leads the privates. Insignia: two stripes.
    
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  4. Samal. Sergeant. Also apparently acroslang, but almost nobody remembers this any more. Originally short for segen michutz la-teken, which is literally "lieutenant without commission", but really means just non commissioned officer. This harks back to when a samal was really an NCO rank, not enlisted. Insignia: three stripes.
    
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  5. Samar (acroslang), or samal rishon. Literally "first sergeant", but to match American/European ranks translated as "staff sergeant". The highest enlisted rank, sometimes also considered an NCO. Insignia: three stripes, with metal (oak-?) leaf attached, centred.
    
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NCO ranks -- nagadim

These are for people who stay on in regular army, but are not made officers. Their insignia have undergone numerous changes, and are now flat metal decorations worn on epaulettes (on the shoulder). The components are small chevrons (pointing out) and solid stars of david. There is no biblical record of NCOs, so all the new rank names were pretty much spun out of thin air - all but one are variations on a theme of "like a sergeant, but higher up".

  1. Rav samal. "Sergeant first class". Translates literally best as "sergeant major", but that's reserved officially for a higher rank. Insignia: one chevron.
    
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  2. Rav samal rishon (abbrevated to rasar). First sergeant. ("First" and "major" both, as they were beginning to run out of appropriate Hebrew words.) Insignia: two chevrons.
  3. Rav samal mitkadem. Sergeant major. Literally, an "advanced" rav samal. One chevron and a star.
    
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  4. Rav samal bachir. Warrant officer. By the time they added this rank (to keep promoting people who stay on, and to add differentiation before the most senior NCO rank), they were strecthing the limits of military inventiveness. This is, literally, a "senior sergeant major", or somesuch. Insignia: two chevrons, and a star.
  5. Rav nagad. Chief warrant officer. Nagad is a made-up word, based on a root form which has to do with command. NCOs are commonly referred to as nagadim, so this rank is the "greatest NCO"... Insignia: three chevrons and a star.
    
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Officer ranks -- ktzinim

At some point during their service, some soldiers go through officer training. They get a pin which goes on the left shirt collar, and start on this list of ranks (usually at its bottom). Insignia are composed of raised bars with laurel branch depicted (aronot), then leaves (oak leaves?) -- alim, but invariably referred to as falafels, and then crossed sword and (laurel) branch (called just "swords": haravot). The ancient world, and the bible specifically, was fairly interested in commanders and such, so words for officer ranks were easier to come by. Seren and aluf, explained below are apparently bona fide biblical Hebrew military terms, and segen derives from a "real" word too...

  1. Sagam, acroslang for segen mishne, or "Second lieutenant". Really what used to be called in some places an ensign, which is to say a trainee officer. But noone is aware of this status... Insignia: one bar.
  2. Segen. Lieutenant. From a root word which means second, or deputy. Presumably, because this guy is below the captain... Insignia: two bars.
  3. Seren. Captain. Actually a biblical word, which refers to some kind of commander or local ruler (the warlords of the Philistines were called this). Insignia: three bars.
    
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  4. Rav seren or (abbreviated) rasan. Major. Insignia: one leaf.
  5. Sgan aluf, also abbrevaited sa'al. Literally, a "deputy" aluf (see below). Lieutenant colonel. Insignia: two leaves.
  6. Aluf mishne (abbreviated alam). A "second" aluf. Properly translated as Colonel. Insignia: three leaves.
    
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  7. Tat aluf (sometimes abbreviated ta'al). "Under" aluf, or perhaps sub-aluf. Brigadier general. Well, this rank is a more recent addition, and all the good diminishing adjectives were taken, so perhaps that's the best word they could find. Insignia: crossed sword and laurel branch.
  8. Aluf. Major general. The old word means some sort of senior military commander, although in modern usage it usually refers to a champion (in sports, chiefly). Insignia: sword and branch, plus one leaf.
  9. Rav aluf. Lieutenant general. This is the Chief of Staff's rank, so there's only one solider at this rank... Insignia: sword and branch, plus two leaves.
    
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    There are also two ranks for people who got their university degree before enlisting (usually as part of the atuda program). They aren't officers (unless they go through regular officer training), but they get some of their privelieges. These are the "Academic Professional Officer" (kama, short for katzin miktzoi academai), roughly equivalent to a lieutenant, and the more recently introduced "Senior Academic (Professional) Officer" (ka'ab, short for katzin (miktzoi) akademai bachir), roughly equivalent to a captain. The ka'ab rank may soon be phased out altogether. Their insignia are flat (unraised) shoulder bars, with a scroll depicted. I couldn't find their official graphics on the IDF site, though.



Graphics (and NCO ranks, which no one can be expected to remember properly) from www.idf.il. ASCII art rendering from gifs courtesy of www.text-image.com, with some tweaking of my own. The low quality of the resulting illustrations is mostly the IDF site's fault -- not text-image's.

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