The Knesset is to consider in the coming weeks a bill proposed by National Union chairman MK Ya'akov Katz (Ketzaleh) that will, he hopes, put an end to the demands by army brass that religious soldiers in the IDF be required to participate in activities or take actions that violate their religious sensibilities. The bill, says Ketzaleh, will essentially allow “freedom of religion” for IDF soldiers.
According to the bill, the IDF would be required to make exceptions for soldiers whose religious principles forbid them from fulfilling specific orders. “The defense forces will not impinge on the freedom of a soldier to practice his religion,” the bill reads. “No orders will be given that forces a soldier to act contrary to his religious beliefs; and neither will a soldier be removed from his post or demoted failing to fulfill such an order.” The bill adds that the final decision on what constitutes a violation of religious principles would rest with the IDF Chief Rabbinate.
The bill comes as a result of the recent controversy in the IDF, in which religious soldiers sought to be excused from a concert in which an individual female singer was performing – a violation of the prohibition of “kol isha,” in which a man is not permitted to see a live performance by a female singer. Several soldiers sought to leave the room where the event took place, and were punished by their commanders when they refused to return.
Since then, a debate has raged in the media as to what the extent of “religious freedom” for IDF soldiers should be, with commentators accusing the soldiers of sexism, and worse, and claiming they were seeking to institute gender discrimination in the IDF. But Ketzaleh said that the bill would not impinge on any way on performances by female singers, or any other singers, in the IDF. “My bill is designed to protect observant soldiers and officers, who are today the backbone of IDF officership. The bill will protect them as they practice their faith, and prohibit anyone from forcing them to go against that faith,” Ketzaleh added.
Co-sponsoring the bill with Ketzaleh are Likud MK Tzippy Hotovely and Shas faction head Avraham Michaeli.