Education Officer Under Fire for Remarks on Religious Soldiers

Legal Forum: Brig-Gen Shermeister’s remarks on religious soldiers who refuse to view female singers show disrespect for rights of soldiers.

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Gil Ronen,

Soldier praying in 'Cast Lead'
Soldier praying in 'Cast Lead'
Israel News Photo: (Flash 90)

The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel wrote the IDF Chief of Staff Wednesday to express severe criticism of Brig.-Gen. Eli Shermeister, the army’s Chief Youth and Education Officer. Shermeister was quoted earlier this week as saying that the phenomenon of religious soldiers walking out on shows featuring female singers was “very worrisome.”

“It is not proper that on events dedicated to the unit, the soldiers will split up and that they will not all participate as a group in the event, which is meant to strengthen their bonding,” he said.

The Legal Forum called Brig.-Gen. Shermeister’s statement an “unfortunate” one, which is “disconnected from the reality in the IDF, in which religious soldiers form an increasingly large part of the military’s command backbone.”

The Forum – a prominent legal body that is identified with traditional Zionism – also asked what business it is of the Chief Youth and Education Officer how religious a particular soldier is.

'Not his business'
“There are many religious people who prefer to avoid listening to female singing, especially in a
“Perhaps the real ‘problem’ in his eyes is the fact that religious soldiers account for a disproportionate share of the ranks of the combat field units.”
live appearance,” the Forum’s letter explained to the Chief of Staff. “There are religious people who grow a beard, others who wear their tzitizyot [ritual fringes] in a way that makes them visible, and others who wear a particularly large kippah. The degree of ‘religiousness’ of citizens in a democratic country is not supposed to be anyone’s business – certainly not that of the army in which they serve.”

The officer’s statement is troubling, the Forum further contended, because it joins others that have been played up in the media, and who “view the Military Rabbinate as a ‘problem,’ see religious soldiers as a ‘problem,’ see faith-based motivation for optimal service in the IDF as a ‘problem,’ and recently even sees the sacrifice and resolve exhibited by religious soldiers and commanders in Operation 'Cast Lead' as an additional ‘problem.’”

Shermeister’s remark shows that “perhaps the real ‘problem’ in his eyes is the fact that religious soldiers and officers account for a disproportionate share of the ranks of the combat field units,” the Legal Forum said, adding that religious soldiers also take up “a large share of the rows of military tombstones at [the military cemeteries of] Har Herzl and Kiryat Shaul, several times larger than their share in the general population.”