Gender Turf War in the General Staff?
Tension between secular feminists and religious nationalists may have spilled over into the IDF General Staff. A team headed by Major General Orna Barbivai, the first woman to have the rank of major general in the IDF, has made recommendations that contradict statements by Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, regarding the "women's singing" issue.
While Gantz clearly stated last week that religious soldiers will be allowed to opt out of morale-boosting entertainment that involves female soldiers singing on stage, the team headed by Barbivai recommended that soldiers only be excused from these activities if their commanders decide to let them leave.
The prohibition to hear women singing is a clear halakhah. While some rabbis have ruled that listening when a microphone is used or a choir sings is allowed as it is not direct sound, many religious men avoid hearing women sing in any fashion.
In events that bear a solemn and formal nature, no soldiers will be excused because of women's singing. In this matter, the Chief of Staff and Barbivai agreed.
Barbivai participated last week in a session of the Knesset Committee for Advancement of Women's Status. During the session, Women's Lobby chairperson Rina Bar-Tal reminded Barbivai and other senior female officers that she had lobbied for their advancement – broadly hinting that this meant they owed her a debt of gratitude and cooperation.
The Women's Lobby has become a flagship organization of the New Israel Fund, which is opposed to the nationalist stream within the religious-Zionist movement and seeks to weaken it.
One way it advances its aim is the women's singing issue, which is used to portray religious soldiers in a bad light, as "excluders of women." Religious soldiers are some of the IDF's finest troops and the issue is one of freedom of religion, but leftists admit to feeling threatened by the religious soldiers' growing influence.