Top IDF officials met this week with representatives from Aluma, an organization that directs Israeli youth to meaningful IDF service. Their goal: to figure out how to boost IDF enlistment among religious Jewish women.
Women who live a traditional religious lifestyle are exempt from army service. In total, 40% of Israeli women eligible for IDF service do not serve, and 35% of those get an exemption for religious reasons.
While exemptions from service for men are common primarily in the hareidi-religious community, women from both the hareidi community and most women from the religious-Zionist community apply for the exemptions.
However, IDF officers noted a recent increase in the number of female recruits who are graduates of the public religious Jewish school system. The increase comes despite the fact that most religious girls’ schools have a policy not to allow recruitment activities on school grounds due to the ruling of the Chief Rabbinate on the subject..
Brigadier-General Gadi Agmon of the IDF Manpower division said the army would work to ensure that each religious female recruit would be able to serve without compromising on her values. The IDF is willing to commit to allowing female soldiers to leave their positions without negative repercussions if the position does not allow religious observance, he said.
Units that include religious female recruits are subject to visits from superiors, and the recruits have twice-annual meetings with superior officers to ensure any concerns are addressed, Agmon added.
Yifat Selah of Aluma has worked on behalf of religious female soldiers for several years. Aluma’s goal is not to encourage 12th grade girls to enlist, she said, but rather to be sure they have all the relevant information.
“That said, we are all women who decided to enlist, and we do not conceal our stance,” she added.
Selah explained that Aluma works directly with religious soldiers and not with rabbis, but said there are several rabbis who support religious female soldiers even if they do not actively encourage female IDF enlistment.
The Chief Rabbinate of israel ruled in the early years of the state that it is halakhically not permissible for young women to serve in the army as Jewish law does not allow a single woman to be under the jurisdiction of any coercive authority that is governed by males. Amy life, the rabbis say, has for the most part borne out the wisdom of this prohibition and since there is no shortage of soldiers, would like the exemption to be extended to non-religious Israeli women as well. National Service was created to allow religious girls to volunteer rather than to join the armed forces and has greatly benefited the state of Israel.